In their research, Sherlock and Wagstaff (2019) tested the hypothesis that the time spent by women on Instagram was positively correlated with body dissatisfaction, generalized anxiety, physical appearance anxiety, depression, and social comparison. The authors also hypothesized a negative correlation between Instagram use and females’ self-esteem. Another significant aim of the study was to investigate whether looking at photos with the appeal to upward social comparisons would reduce self-assessed physical attractiveness and appearance self-esteem and boost physical appearance uncertainty. Although there was a control group of participants, the research was of a correlational type since scholars did not intervene and change participants’ behavior but, rather, observed it passively. The main purpose was to identify the patterns of women’s behavior and analyze the relationship between Instagram use and psychological well-being of the participants. Whereas many previous studies focused on a similar topic, they were concerned with the use of Facebook. Meanwhile, the authors of the article under analysis decided to concentrate on Instagram as a more recently developed social media platform.
The independent variable is the one controlled or changed by the researchers. In the present study, such a variable is Instagram use. Scholars manipulated the independent variable by offering various groups of participants to view images from different categories: fitness, beauty, travel, and none for the control group. Meanwhile, dependent variables are defined as those dependent on the independent one, and they are tested and measured by scholars. In the present research, dependent variables include anxiety, depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. The operational definition of Instagram use was not given in the article. However, it might be assumed as a regular engagement in the social network, using its search options and hashtags, and sharing personal data along with viewing others’ visual materials. Operational definitions of dependent variables may be deduced as follows:
- anxiety: a state of apprehension associated with the state of being dissatisfied with one’s physical appearance;
- self-esteem: the level of assessment of one’s physical appearance as compared to others’;
- body dissatisfaction: finding flaws in one’s physical constitution based on contrasting one’s body with people engaged in regular fitness activities;
- depressive symptoms: the feeling of being unhappy due to not corresponding to the image of beauty set by one’s imagination and bolstered by exposure to idealized images.
The study involved 129 participants, all of them females aged between 18 and 35, who confirmed that they were using Instagram. Some of the respondents were recruited from the participant pool existing in the authors’ university, and others volunteered to join the research after noticing flyers on campuses and adverts on social networking sites. The collection of data was carried out with the help of SurveyMonkey. The process consisted of two parts, the completion of both of which took about 30 to 40 minutes. During the first part, respondents were requested to randomly complete such scales as the 20-item Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, the Heatherton Self-Esteem Scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, the Physical Appearance State and Trait Anxiety Scale, and the Body Image Disturbance Questionnaire. Additionally, respondents were requested to self-rate their physical appearance and measure their Instagram use. In the second part, participants were randomly assigned to view images in the categories ‘travel’ (35 women), ‘beauty’ (30), and ‘fitness’ (28), whereas 31 women in the control groups did not view any pictures and only completed the scales from part one.
Researchers found a positive correlation between Instagram use and physical appearance anxiety, trait anxiety, social comparison orientation, body image disturbance, and depressive symptoms. The hypothesis concerning the negative correlation between the time spent on the social network and self-esteem was confirmed. Scholars also found a positive correlation between the number of followers and trait anxiety and depression and a negative correlation between the number of followers and self-esteem. A positive correlation between the number of accounts a female followed and depression was detected. At the same time, scholars did not confirm the hypothesis concerning the change in self-esteem, general anxiety, and appearance anxiety depending on Instagram use.
Overall, the research was well designed, with the appropriate designation of core parts and detailed explanations of variables and procedures. However, there are some notes on improvement that could be made. The first issue to discuss is the sample used in the study. The number of respondents was too small to consider it representative of the population. Since researchers did not have to arrange personal meetings, spend time or financial resources on commuting and distributing questionnaires, and dedicate much time to calculating results, they could have engaged more participants to obtain more reliable and valid results. Also, the age group of participants does not look representative of the population since many modern women over 35 years can be considered young and are active Instagram users. The authors mentioned that they aimed at studying females’ perceptions since women constituted the majority of Instagram’s user base. Hence, the selection of participants’ gender may be considered as justified.
Validity is the extent to which the study’s findings measure what they were expected to measure. What concerns the measurement of dependent variables in the study under analysis, it looks quite valid. When assessing anxiety, scholars aimed at measuring respondents’ state of apprehension associated with their physical appearance and correspondence or non-correspondence with the idealized images. By measuring self-esteem, the authors strove to evaluate respondents’ personal perceptions of their physical appearance. The body dissatisfaction rate intended to determine participants’ rationality while comparing their physical structure to Instagram users engaged in fitness activities on a regular basis. Finally, the depressive symptoms variable was concerned with assessing the likelihood of one’s feeling unhappy and desperate due to being exposed to idealized pictures. Since each of the variables was measured with the help of several scores along with self-assessment, it is possible to consider their measurement valid.
The study employed appropriate ethical safeguards, thus, excluding the possibility of violating participants’ privacy. First of all, scholars had their research approved by the ethics research committee of their university. Hence, it is evident that all the appropriate ethical regulations were made to provide respondents’ safety in this respect. Secondly, every respondent signed an informed consent form, which ensured that they agreed to the use of their data to the extent they agreed. No names, addresses, or other personal information was disclosed in the course of the research. Finally, after completing all the scales and viewing images, researchers made a debriefing statement for the participants, in which they explained the main points of the procedure. Thus, it is viable to conclude that the authors employed the necessary ethical safeguards.
Based on the study’s findings, it is possible to mention some additional implications. The authors focused on the negative aspects of psychological well-being resulting from women’s Instagram use and exposure to idealized images. Meanwhile, their findings could also be employed to analyze the potential positive regulators of individuals’ psychological health. For instance, by identifying the correlations responsible for depressive symptoms, scholars could evaluate other aspects’ effect on females’ psyche. Namely, they could have utilized non-idealized images to assess whether those would have a positive impact on women. Furthermore, it would be useful to measure the influence of Instagram use on men and adolescents. This way, scholars would have gained sufficient material to compare and contrast their findings for different gender and age groups.
The study by Sherlock and Wagstaff (2019) researched the correlation between Instagram use and psychological well-being of women. The authors hypothesized that there was a positive link between excessive Instagram use and appearance anxiety and other psychological self-perception issues. Scholars offered an overview of similar studies based on Facebook use and noted that Instagram, being a more recent social network, had not gained sufficient attention from researchers specializing in the field of psychology. The study involved 129 participants, all of them females aged between 18 and 35 years and having active accounts on Instagram. The independent variable was Instagram use, and dependent variables included anxiety, depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. Respondents signed an informed consent form before data was collected from them. There were two parts of the study: in the first one, participants completed several scales aimed at identifying their well-being; in the second, women were divided into four groups, one of which was the control group, and three others viewed images in different categories. The findings of the study revealed a positive correlation between Instagram use and depressive symptoms, psychical appearance anxiety, and other psychological well-being factors.
Sherlock, M., & Wagstaff, D. L. (2019). Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8(4), 482–490. Web.