This is an Insta-vention! Exploring Cognitive Countermeasures to Reduce Negative Consequences of Social Comparisons on Instagram

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Abstract

Social networking sites such as Instagram provide users with numerous social comparison cues, potentially leading to envy and lower self-esteem. We conducted two experiments, examining whether such negative consequences could be mitigated by brief cognitive interventions. In Experiment 1 (N= 391), we reminded users of the unrealistic nature of most Instagram posts in a 2 (intervention: disclaimer vs. control) × 2 (Instagram profile: upward vs. downward comparison standard) between-subjects design. Positive and negative affect, envy, self-esteem, and well-being served as dependent variables. Experiment 2 (N= 184) explored whether slightly longer cognitive interventions (“cognitive bias” vs. “growth mindset” vs. control) could improve participants’ experience of upward comparisons, shielding them against envy or the loss of self-esteem. Both experiments included social comparison orientation (SCO) as a potential moderator. Results show that eliciting upward comparisons indeed evoked more envy, with SCO moderating the effect. We further observed indirect effects of the shown Instagram profiles on positive affect, envy, self-esteem, and well-being via participants’ social comparison experience. Concerning the cognitive interventions, however, we report that neither an authoritative disclaimer, nor educating users about cognitive biases or mindsets significantly reduced the negative consequences of social comparisons.

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Weber, S., Messingschlager, T., & Stein, J. P. (2021). This is an Insta-vention! Exploring Cognitive Countermeasures to Reduce Negative Consequences of Social Comparisons on Instagram. Media Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2021.1968440

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