Updated 14 October 2020

Being authentic on social media is better for your mental health, researchers say

If you’re conflicted over whether to present your life in a way that’s idealised or authentic, researchers advise the latter will bring you greater happiness.

  • In the digital age, social media platforms can greatly affect our mental health
  • Researchers have found that authenticity on social media leads to more wellbeing compared to idealising our lives
  • The researchers suggest we avoid posting about our 'best self' and be realistic instead

Using social media to keep up with the lives of others is great, but exposure to a sea of "humble-bragging" travel posts, flattering selfies and envy-inducing food photos can make us feel inadequate about our own life and appearance.

If you’re guilty of the above, researchers suggest that it might be better for your mental health not to craft an idealised view of yourself on social media.

The study, published in Nature Communications, particularly focused on Facebook and showed that there are psychological benefits associated with being authentic when it comes to posts and likes.

Over 10 500 Facebook users' data analysed

The study team included US researchers at New York's Columbia Business School (CBS) and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago.

For their study, they first analysed data of just over 10 500 Facebook users who had completed a life satisfaction and personality assessment from 2007 to 2012.

Then, to find out to what extent their Facebook postings represented authentic expressions of their personality, the researchers compared these self-ratings with predictions of users' personality based on digital traces left on Facebook, such as likes and Facebook posts.

Participants who expressed themselves in a more authentic way were found to report higher levels of life satisfaction, and this effect appeared to be consistent across different personality types.

Second part of study

In the second part of the study, the research team analysed 90 students who posted in an authentic way on Facebook for a week, followed by posting in a "self-idealised" way, also for one week.

Erica Bailey, a doctoral student in management at CBS and co-author of the study explained that an inauthentic post, for example, would be someone who is introverted posting about how excited they were to go out over the weekend.

The students' subjective wellbeing was found to be higher in the week when they were asked to post authentically.

"Being prompted to post in an authentic way was associated with more positive mood and affect, and less negative mood within participants.

"Our findings suggest that all individuals, regardless of personality traits, could benefit from being authentic on social media," the researchers wrote.

Staying true to ourselves

“Social media allows users a vast amount of control in deciding the persona they wish to show the world. With that control comes the temptation to create our ‘best self',” Columbia Business School Professor, Sandra Matz said in a news release by Columbia Business School.

“We show that resisting this temptation, and instead sharing one’s authentic day-to-day experiences, is critical when it comes to users’ life satisfaction and happiness.”

Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar also commented: “One thing is clear – how someone is engaging on social media has a heavy impact on what they’re getting out of it.

“The healthiest decision someone can make for their happiness and wellbeing while on social media is to stay true to themselves and share their life as it is and not as they wish it to be.”

Previous studies have shown that overuse of social media can encourage narcissistic tendencies in teenagers, as well as anti-social behaviour in adults, while other studies have found that excessive daily use of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can fuel depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders, showing the importance of taking time away from social media.

READ | Is social media doing all it can to deal with mental health issues?

READ | Trying to get over a breakup? Social media will only make it worse – even if you block or unfollow your ex

READ | How does social media shape your food choices?

Image credit: Pexels


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