After being stung by criticism, we often look for ways to boost our self-confidence again. According to a study from the University of Madison-Wisconsin, we’re using Facebook for just that purpose—all the time.
Professor Catalina Toma and communication specialist Jeffery Hancock at Cornell University conducted a series of experiments on students to see if Facebook helps to improve their self-worth. In the first experiment, students were told they were going to be tested on their public speaking skills.
While waiting for evaluators to grade their speeches, they were asked to do one of three things: browse their own Facebook profile, browse a stranger’s profile, or write a quick essay. They were then given feedback on their speeches, which was unfairly negative across the board.
The students who had browsed their own profiles for a few minutes took the harsh feedback much better than the other students. In other words, seeing themselves on Facebook acted as an inoculation against criticism.
“Participants who had examined their Facebook profiles for five minutes were more likely to assume responsibility and less likely to blame others when receiving negative feedback,” Toma and Hancock write. “Spending time on Facebook may fulfill important ego needs. By showcasing a version of self that is attractive, successful, and embedded in a network of meaningful relationships, Facebook enhances users’ perceptions of self-worth.”
A second experiment was conducted, where students again were told they were practicing public speaking. This time they randomly received either neutral or negative feedback on the speech beforehand. Then they were invited to do one of five activities for extra credit, one of which was browsing Facebook.
The result? The students who’d been criticized harshly chose to browse Facebook at twice the rate of participants who received neutral feedback.
The study suggests that Facebook is a self-affirmation tool, helping people to accept strong criticism. Next time you have something harsh to say to someone, have them look at their profile for a few minutes first—they may be far more accepting of your words.