We all have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others, whether online, offline, intentional or not. Comparison evaluates us in terms of our achievements, abilities, personality and emotions, and then affects our perception of ourselves.
But to what extent does comparison affect our well-being? It all depends on the degree of comparison.
Comparing ourselves to individuals in worse shape than us through social media would help us feel better. Comparing ourselves to individuals who do better than us, on the contrary, would give us a feeling of inferiority or inadequacy. The chosen social network also affects our morale. Just like crisis situations like the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a doctoral student in psychology, I am interested, as part of my thesis, in Incels, those men who perceive the rejection of women as the cause of their reluctant celibacy. I believe that social comparison – which plays a role in these marginalized groups, as well as in the population – affects the general well-being in the age of social networks.
Optimal level of comparison
The level of social comparison would play on the level of motivation of individuals. According to a study by Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, there would be an optimal level of difference that one perceives between oneself and another, which would maximize the effects of social comparison.
More precisely, if someone perceives himself as significantly superior to another, he will not be motivated to improve, because he is already in a good position. And if we perceive ourselves as very inferior, we will also not be motivated to progress because our goal seems too difficult to achieve.
In other words, researchers note, above or below the optimal level of difference observed between oneself and others, one no longer makes an effort. Perceiving themselves as inferior, the individual will feel negative emotions, guilt and less pride and self-esteem.
Unrealistic comparisons on social networks
Social comparison therefore has consequences on our behavior as much as on our mental well-being. On the other hand, comparing yourself to others during dinner at a restaurant does not necessarily have the same effect as comparing yourself to others on Facebook. It’s easier to invent an exciting existence or beautify certain aspects of things on a social network than in real life.
Read more: Fairy tales on social networks can undermine your self-confidence, but you can laugh at that too!
In this perspective, the emergence of social networks that enable the dissemination of content in which we always appear in its best light has led several researchers to consider the possibility that this reinforces unrealistic comparisons.
Research shows that the more time people spend on Facebook and Instagram, the more they compare themselves in society. This social comparison is associated, among other things, with lower self-esteem and greater social anxiety. Research conducted at the National University of Singapore explains these results, among other things, by the fact that people mostly present positive information about themselves and can improve their appearance with filters, creating the impression that there is a big difference between themselves and others. .
For their part, researchers working on Facebook have noticed that the more people see content in which people share the positive aspects of their lives online, the more inclined they are to compare themselves.
A less negative social comparison in the Covid-19 era
However, could the effect of this comparison in a particularly stressful context such as the Covid-19 pandemic be different?
A study from the University of Corea in Enna, Italy, showed that before quarantine, high social comparisons were associated with more trouble, loneliness and less fulfilled lives, but this is not the case. This was no longer the case during the captivity.
This could be explained, among other things, by the fact that people, comparing themselves to others during captivity, had the impression that they were sharing the same difficult period, reducing the negative impact of social comparisons. Comparing yourself to others online can therefore be a positive resource for improving relationships and sharing feelings of fear and uncertainty in difficult times.
Different effect depending on the social network
There are differences that need to be made depending on the social network used. Researchers from the University of Lorraine, France, believe that not all social networking applications should be put in the same basket.
For example, using Facebook and Instagram would be associated with poorer well-being, while Twitter would be associated with more positive emotions and life satisfaction. Possible explanation: Facebook and Instagram are known to be places of positive self-presentation, unlike Twitter where it is more appropriate to share your true opinions and emotions.
Therefore, trying to gain social support on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic can reactivate negative emotions instead of letting them go, depending on the social network being used.
More benefits anyway
There are different motivations to compare ourselves on social networks, and social networks expose us to it more, whether we like it or not. Depending on the type of content being shared, whether positive or negative, we tend to refer to it to judge ourselves. It’s nice to share content that makes us stand out and receive praise from others, but you have to consider the effects of those posts on others.
But in general, I believe that sharing your difficulties with words, pictures or videos can still have positive effects and bring psychological benefits.