Happy friends watching on their smart mobile phones outdoor – Young generation having fun with new … [+]
Scrolling through your Instagram (IG) feed, do you ever think about its potential to affect the depth or quality of your new or existing friendships with your friends on the app?
In other words, can its virtual appeal translate to enhanced or growth of new friendships in real life (IRL)? It’s a valid question, and one which is relevant given the growth of virtual relationships over the past decade.
The IG experience often seems like a mindless task in some ways, leading to surges of dopamine at times and ho-hum responses to other images at other points, flush with advertisers injecting their ads between images into your scroll.
Well, a group of researchers recently explored this question and found that IG may actually enhance the quality of relationships among users, with a greater effect seen in those who are shy or reserved, especially among those who may be less willing to connect to others and try new experiences.
The study, published online in Computers and Behavior, evaluated responses of 671 college-age students about their thoughts and feelings about using the app.
In a nutshell, the research found that participants believed its usability increased their fondness of the app, which in turn enhanced their ability to express themselves online, leading to new and richer relationships offline.
“Our findings are optimistic: that self-disclosure on Instagram could facilitate friendship development, even if followers were just casual acquaintances at the start,” said Danielle Lee, the study’s lead author, and a PhD student at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
But the results of the study indicated that IG had a more pronounced effect on those participants who were introverted and less likely to be willing to engage in new experiences.
“Studies have shown that in general, people who are not extroverted, who might be somewhat shy, find social media platforms an easier way to interact with other people,” said Associate Professor Porismita Borah, co-author on the paper. “Instagram is such a visually rich platform and that really helps in self-presentation.”
In some respects, an image or picture serves as a relationship bridge, a way to ‘break the ice”, inviting commentary which may serve as the beginning of a relationship offline, according to the authors’ line of reasoning.
At the same time, it’s important to also acknowledge social media’s negative effects—bullying, social media addiction, misinformation, depression, social isolation, and ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO)—which many argue negate any positive effects that apps such as IG may potentially offer.
IG is immensely popular among young adults. In fact, based on a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 71% of young adults 18-24, use IG. It’s visual nature and the variability in how users can present themselves and their images can express varying degrees of creativity. IG users may also follow others on the platform without their approval—assuming their accounts are public—which may enhance social connectivity for those who have limited social ties outside of the app.
“In Instagram, you can change the image the way you want with filters and many different tools before posting it,” said Borah. “Both media richness and user-friendliness come together in Instagram, which is probably what makes it so appealing to the younger generation.”
Acknowledging this immense degree of user engagement, the study may offer an easier, less stressful way to connect for those who may be more reserved or introverted. That said, this does not make it a more preferred way to development human relationships.
Connecting with people in real life, face-to-face without a smartphone while spending time engaged in conversation and sharing experiences—as opposed to IG posts—is a more gratifying and sustainable approach to nurturing and developing human relationships.
If IG can facilitate this process based on results of this small study, then it may offer hope for increasing connectivity in the vast landscape of social media’s isolation and other associated adverse effects.