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The “Selfie” Effect: Social Media Feedback on Stress, Physiology, Mood, and Memoryselfie woman


In today’s society, it is not hard to run into someone that has some sort of social media account. Whether it is Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, more and more people are caving into the social phenomenon. With all of the interactions that are happening among users, our research group wondered how this positive and negative feedback that is appearing on a phone or computer screen might be affecting a person’s overall well being. We decided to test our hypothesis stating that “people who receive negative social media feedback will exhibit higher anxiety levels, display poor self-esteem, have impaired memory, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and cortisol levels” in a very unique way.

The population of our study consisted of 24 participants from the St. Ambrose community ranging from ages 19-63. We chose to use the popular social media site “Instagram” as our platform to induce stress on our participants. Participants were asked to send a selfie of themselves to our email account that they really liked and thought best represent their personality. When they came into the lab, the research assistant would take the participant’s heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels through a saliva sample. Next, there would be a 30 minute delay. During this delay, participants were to complete a personality inventory and read two articles related to selfies. Before the research assistant would leave the room, they would inform the participant that they would be posting their selfie that they submitted to our private Instagram account. We told them that 40 undergraduate St. Ambrose University students would be looking at their photo and “liking” or not liking their photo. In reality, our research team would randomly assign the participant to the high-like group or the low-like group. The high-like group would get 38 likes photo-shopped under their photo and the low-like group would get 2 likes photo-shopped under theirs. No one was actually looking at the photo, and we were personally manipulating the likes. After the 30 minute delay, the assistant would return to the room and visually show the participant their selfie feedback (i.e. the number of likes). We then asked the participant to write a reflection on why they think they received the number of likes that they did. The participant’s heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels were taken a second time. We finished by giving them self-esteem, anxiety, and memory tests to complete.

Though this topic is often overlooked, it is important for people to realize that social media can play a role in a person’s overall well being. Our study is unique in that it is the first experiment (to our knowledge) to manipulate a social media platform such as Instagram. We are looking forward to sharing our results on Friday!

Student Researchers: Alexandra Brown, Ann Froeschle, Bayley Keys, Abigail Landrum

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Shyam Seetharaman, Dr. Jennifer Whitmer


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