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Is Facebook Making You Fat?

Research connects social media-induced self-esteem boosts to self-control. Consider these implications for business.

10 Social Networks For Special Interests
10 Social Networks For Special Interests
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Is social networking making you fat? Or poor? According to new research, social networking raises users' self-esteem but also lowers their self-control, causing them to do things like eat too much and spend more than they should. The research has interesting implications for organizations doing business on Facebook and other social networks, and provides new insight into the ways social networks are affecting users, whether or not they are actually connected.

The study, "Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem and Self-Control," examined Facebook behavior and how it relates to users' self-control, body mass index and credit card debt. The study was conducted among about 1,000 Facebook users by Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, and Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

The research comprised several studies. The researchers noted that the use of Facebook increased users' self-esteem when they were focused on information they were presenting to others, and that they felt better about themselves when the information was received by people in their network with whom they had strong ties. This increased self-esteem is connected to a decrease in self control, the research showed.

"You're presenting your best self [on social networks], so you're sharing all your accomplishments in some way, shape or form, and you care most about presenting it to people you're closest to," study co-author Wilcox told The BriainYard. "When users browse a social network, they feel good about themselves, and when they have an inflated sense of self, they often display poor self-control."

[ If you could alter Facebook's Timeline, what would you do? See 9 Facebook Timeline Changes Businesses Want. ]

Wilcox said the phenomenon was similar to someone being told how great they looked after losing weight, with that person then eating a cookie because the boost in self-esteem made them feel like it was OK to eat something that they wouldn't have otherwise.

The implications of the research are far-reaching, especially for organizations doing business on Facebook. For example, said Wilcox, organizations should consider that people in this state of mind -- feeling good about themselves -- may respond more or better to one type of product or messaging over another. "Messages that tell them how good they are might be effective with people in this mindset," said Wilcox.

Bigger picture, the research has implications for policy makers because self-control is important for maintaining social order and well-being, according to the researchers. "It would be worthwhile for researchers and policy makers to further explore social network use in order to better understand which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to suffering negative psychological or social consequences," the authors wrote.

Wilcox said he plans to continue this line of research, looking at -- among other things -- how the self-esteem/self-control connection applies to the ways in which people respond to different ad messages, as well as the implications of long-term use of Facebook.

The paper, which is available online now, is slated to appear in the June 2013 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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Cara Latham
Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2013 | 1:44:31 PM
re: Is Facebook Making You Fat?
This is really interesting! I'm tempted to wonder whether the popular "food pics" trend -- posts by users' family and friends of the delicious dinners and fabulous meals they cook or the meals they purchase at certain restaurants -- play any role in this.

Seriously, though, I found this to be the most interesting part of the article: "Wilcox said the phenomenon was similar to someone being told how great they looked after losing weight, with that person then eating a cookie because the boost in self-esteem made them feel like it was OK to eat something that they wouldn't have otherwise." I can see this point, but I think a user who DOES look great after having lost weight who posts pictures of his/her new look would be motivated by these comments and encouraged to keep working at dieting/exercise to continue to boost his or her self esteem.
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