The science behind Instagram likes – 03/12/19

Earlier this year, Instagram began to experiment with the removal of their ‘like’ feature; disabling users from seeing the number of likes other people had received. The experimental restriction has only been tested in Japan, Canada and Brazil, but now this is set to be rolled out in the US and the UK as well.

Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri remarked that the reason behind this movement was to ‘reduce anxiety and social comparisons’. In 2018, ‘The Economist’ released some research in which Instagram was labelled the worst social media platform for mental health. The research further highlighted that frequent users of the social media platform had a higher level of anxiety and Fear of Missing Out (FoMO), compared with those who don’t use the platform or even those that use Instagram less. This study conducted by ‘The Economist’ found that Instagram users who spend two or more hours on Instagram daily have higher levels of anxiety compared to those using it less.

Instagram not only affects the anxiety levels of its users but can also lead to users having increased levels of depression and has been linked to encouraging eating disorders on account of the common practice of using filters and photoshop to alter the appearance of users. Research reveals that Instagram potentially has a negative association with body image disorders. The editing and retouching of photos can lead to users feeling unhappy or uncomfortable with their own body, and the beauty industry capitalises on this. The beauty industry is growing faster than ever before and is estimated to be worth £27.2 billion in 2018 in the UK, with £8.7 billion of that through purchases of personal enhancement products.

The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) has also conducted some research about the impact that social media has on young people’s mental health. Their research showed that anxiety levels were heightened after you check your social media profile or your newsfeed. RSPH further announced that Instagram instigates a culture where its users are encouraged to compare their profile, followers, likes and engagement with others.

In a video produced by Adam Alter, a New York University Professor, Alter states that:“When someone likes an Instagram post, or any content that your share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug”. He continues to describe the effect of likes on your brain, stating: “As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience.” One interesting point that Alter makes about social media is: “It’s the unpredictability of that process that makes it so addictive”.

It’s important to recognise that the image of people that we receive on these social media platforms is the image that that person wants to present to the rest of the world. It is not an accurate representation. Alter corroborates this view: “Seeing the best version of everyone else’s life makes you feel deprived.”

It is important to recognise that social media can impact your health, whether that is your mental wellbeing or physical health; the short-term release of serotonin can lead to you craving interaction on social media platforms but lead to the apps having a negative impact on anxiety and stress levels.

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