Insecurities may lead to problematic social media use, new research shows. According to a new study published in BMC Psychology, adults may be using Facebook and other social media websites to fulfill their attachment needs in an unhealthy way.
In the study, researchers at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI) surveyed 717 adult Facebook users. In one survey, the participants reported their self-esteem, attachment levels, and psychological distress. In another survey, the same participants reported their Facebook use and how they use their social media account.
Researchers cross-studied the results of the surveys and found that participants with low self-esteem or those suffering from high levels of anxiety, depression, or stress were more likely to be dependent on social media.
These participants were also more likely to compulsively look at other users’ photos, over-share personal information, and post selfies with various filters.
This may not be surprising considering the insecurities surrounding physical features. In the U.S., teeth are the second biggest insecurity after weight and it only takes one-tenth of a second for a stranger to make a first impression based on your face alone.
The researchers said the results of the study show that those suffering from attachment anxiety (a fear of rejection that can cause a person to be overly dependent in personal relationships) may rely on Facebook as an emotional crutch.
In the study, Facebook users with attachment anxiety were more likely to participate in social comparison. This is when social media users scroll through other users’ social media profiles to compare their lives or profiles to their peers’.
For instance, the percentage of teens in the labor force has dropped from 50% to 35% in the past 18 years. Social media users using Facebook for social comparisons may feel more insecure when they see their friend has a job, but they don’t have one themselves.
The same users more likely to participate in social comparison were also more likely to disclose personal information and emotional status updates during times of emotional distress. Both behaviors have been linked to a desire to engage and connect with others online.
Adults with attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance may see social media as a less threatening forum where they can meet their attachment needs. But the sense of relief and satisfaction those same users feel when sharing information online is only short-term.
“People have a moment of connect and that can feel fulfilling,” said Dr. Sally Flynn, the lead author of the study. “But it may not truly satisfy an individual’s fundamental attachment needs and could exacerbate insecurities.”
Although a 2008 study found that cryotherapy can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression by 50%, Flynn says it may do social media users some good to monitor their own behaviors to get a better understanding of how they’re using their social media platforms.
When users are unaware of how their online behavior is impacting their life, it can negatively impact their social interactions offline. This is especially true when online users use social media platforms intrusively.
Aside from recognizing one’s own social media behaviors, Flynn also says the results of the study are positive for mental health professionals. Mental health professionals may be able to assess and determine certain risk factors or symptoms based on how patients use their social media platforms.
“[Facebook] can be hugely helpful to people,” said Flynn. “But we want people to think about how they use the site and reflect on how they feel after using it. If [online users] feel anxious [on social media] or the way they use [social media] exacerbates insecurities, they need to adapt.”