Selfies for developing identity: the influence of social media self-presentation and mindfulness

Social media has become a big part of our lives. Not a day goes by for most of us where we haven’t checked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other medium. By far the largest group that uses social media is adolescents. While most research focusses on the negative effects of social media, Yang, Holden and Carter (2017) decided to take a broader approach.

The authors looked into the effects of social media on the identity development of college freshmen and the influence of mindfulness. Social media is a good venue for self-presentation since you can easily communicate your own image to others. Self-presentation can vary on four dimensions: breadth (the amount of information revealed), depth (intimacy of the information), positivity (how positive or negative the image is), and authenticity (level of genuine representation). All these dimensions play a big role in identity development. Two aspects of identity development are self-esteem and identity clarity. While these typically increase from adolescence into adulthood, the transition to college seems to interrupt this pattern.

The researchers found that positive self-presentation among 219 freshmen contributed to a higher self-esteem and that mindfulness influenced the relations between positive and in-depth self-presentation with identity clarity.

The freshman had to use social media at least once a week. Afterwards, they filled in several questionnaires. For the dependent variables, these were the six-item version of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and six items from the Identity subscale of the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory. A social media self-presentation scale, adapted from the Facebook Self-Presentation Scale measured social media self-presentation. The expected moderator, mindfulness, was measured with ten items of the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised. The researchers also added a couple of control variables, which were sex, ethnicity, age and time spent on most frequented social media platform on a typical day.

For the analyses, they first used regression with either self-esteem or identity clarity as a DV and one dimension of self-presentation at a time with all the control variables. Mindfulness was also entered as an independent variable and as a moderator for one of the self-presentation dimensions. After this, they performed two regressions; one for each DV with all the independent variables included, as well as mindfulness as a moderator.

For self-esteem, at first, a higher score on positivity and mindfulness related to a higher self-esteem, while a high score on depth related to a lower self-esteem. However, in the full model, depth was no longer significant. Also, mindfulness at first seemed to moderate the relation between depth and self-esteem and the relation between authenticity and self-esteem. Nonetheless, in the full model, the relations didn’t hold.

As for identity clarity, a higher score on depth related to lower identity clarity while a high score on positivity and mindfulness meant higher identity clarity. In the full model, only mindfulness remained related to identity clarity. As for the moderation, mindfulness moderated positivity and depth related to identity clarity. These moderations continued to hold when all variables were entered in the model. This means that, for mindful freshmen, the relationship between depth and identity clarity is less strong than for freshman who are not mindful. This indicates that mindfulness may be important to regain a clear identity after deep self-presentation. Also, mindful participants who score high on the positivity scale have a clearer identity than freshmen who aren’t mindful. However, these moderations are only marginally significant, so should be interpreted with caution.

It appears that depth and positivity might be the most important aspects of social media self-presentation for the identity development of college freshman. However, the authors warn that while online self-presentation can aid in the identity construction, it can become maladaptive if this is the only or dominant way that the identity process takes place. Exploration remains a crucial part of identity development, which does not seem to be encouraged on most social media platforms.

So basically, it comes down to: keep exploring, be mindful and stay positive!

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