Social media comparisons lead some moms to have lower self-esteem, Nebraska study finds

17 de Abril de 2024 a las 05:00 ·

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After Ciera Kirkpatrick had her first baby, she started seeing more posts from mom influencers on social media and quickly realized it was impacting her perception of her own abilities as a mom.

Kirkpatrick, an assistant professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, started connecting what she was feeling with a previous project she did on body image comparisons on social media.

“When we’re showing off our physical appearances on social media, we might use filters or crop certain things out of the image or have a certain angle of our body,” Kirkpatrick said. “The same thing happens with motherhood, where we first make sure that our hair and makeup is done, and we move clutter out of the background.”

That connection led her to her most recent study, which was published in early March. The study focused on moms with at least one child aged three or younger to see how different portrayals of motherhood online made them feel about themselves.

Before Kirkpatrick could start having new moms participate in the study, she had to collect a series of Instagram posts from both influencers and non-influencers.

Some of the posts were idealized, meaning the moms had their hair done, were wearing makeup and had a clean house. The other posts were non-idealized and showed less curated images with captions discussing some of the hardships of motherhood.

After she finalized the images, moms looked through them and were then asked how they felt about their own abilities as a parent.

“It’s basically a measure of the moms’ self perceptions of their parenting ability,” Kirkpatrick said. “So how good of a mom they think they are.”

Kirkpatrick also studied what sorts of factors can lead to a higher social comparison orientation, which makes moms more likely to have negative feelings after seeing curated posts. Low self-esteem contributes to a higher orientation, Kirkpatrick said.

Moms with higher social comparison orientations were more likely to compare themselves to both idealized and non-idealized posts, but only the idealized ones had a negative effect on their perceived parental competence.

“Overall, how they perceived their parenting abilities was not really affected by the idealization of the posts unless the moms had high social comparison orientation,” Kirkpatrick said.

To determine which moms had higher levels of social comparison orientation, Kirkpatrick had them rate how much they agreed with six statements about comparing themselves to other moms, both in person and online.

Kirkpatrick said she hopes healthcare professionals will use her results to start implementing similar questions during postpartum wellness checks.

“This mom is someone who’s going to be more likely to compare herself to someone else, so we should keep an extra close eye on her in terms of her mental health,” Kirkpatrick said. “We could also provide her with materials that talk about social media and offer suggestions of how you can protect yourself from social media.”

All of Kirkpatrick’s research revolves around how messaging in the media influences people’s health and emotions, and she’s started getting interested in similar content in the form of short-form videos.

For her next research project, Kirkpatrick hopes to look at the impact similar content has when it’s in the form of a TikTok or Instagram reel.