Likes and dislikes online and offline

Emma Davies (Oxford Brookes University) with more reports from the Society's Annual Conference.

Psychologists presenting at the Annual Conference in Brighton were exploring how the content of and responses to social media posts might be implicated in our wellbeing.

Objectification theory explains considers the value placed on (typically, but not solely, women’s) individual body parts – these are often prized as objects for the male gaze, over and above an individual’s personality, within Western culture and media. Examples of objectification are abundant within advertising, music, and fashion, where photographs of female torsos with the head obscured or removed are used to sell perfumes or clothing. Self-objectification on social media might involve posting a photo with certain body parts uncovered or revealed: a common practice amongst celebrities such as Kylie Jenner. These kinds of images could be problematic because self-objectification has been linked to body shame, eating disorders, reduced performance in maths and sports, and in women being less likely to speak up for equal rights. In Dr Beth Bell’s study, the research team at York St John University recruited 86 young women aged 18-24 who consented to a content analysis of their last 20 Instagram posts. The team found that a quarter of posts contained self-objectifying images, and that these received more positive feedback in the form of likes, in turn leading to further self-objectification.

Dr Bell highlighted that it is vitally important to talk to young women about why they post such content and to try to understand their reasons, rather than simply warning them against it. These findings will be used to inform media and social media literacy and positive body image programmes, to attempt to counter the negative impacts that have been observed.

While some may despair at the increasing prevalence of seemingly narcissistic images on social media, Lisa Lazard from The Open University pointed out that post such as selfies are not wholly negative. Although she found evidence of images being used to create a positive self-image, she also found that people also shared selfies for empathetic reasons, such as to support people or causes. Lazard highlighted that these kinds of images are a reflection of our complex and nuanced social words, and so it is vital that we understand the myriad ways they are used.

A further presentation had different implications for men’s health based on responses to Facebook posts. Richard Joiner from the University of Bath found that males are less likely to respond to pain related Facebook statuses from their friends than women are. Joiner presented participants with Facebook posts containing five types of pain, and told them to imagine they came from a close friend when making a response. The responses were coded for levels of supportiveness originally on a scale that started at 0, but males were so unsupportive that the researchers had to add -1 and -2 to their coding scheme. Overall findings showed that females were more supportive to females and males were also more supportive to females. Joiner warned that if negative emotional distress is ignored or downplayed, then this could lead to reduced help-seeking in the real world.

- You can find lots more coverage from the Society's Annual Conference here, including more about the online world, and coming up in the July print edition. Find out about our 2018 event

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