Being Yourself On Facebook Is Good For You — Even If It Makes You Look Less Perfect
It's natural to try to portray yourself in your best light on social media, to gloss over your failures and embarrassments and to focus on the positive. But new research shows that being yourself on Facebook is actually good for you — imperfections and all. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but when you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. After all, there's no point in manufacturing additional stress for ourselves, is there? Most of us already deal with a pretty astonishing amount of it without piling on more.
In a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking , researchers decided to look at the relationship between how "authentic" someone is on Facebook and their stress level. After all, we try to make ourselves look good on social media as a way to protect our selves, right? So it's worth figuring out whether or not that habit is actually beneficial.
In the study, 164 anonymous Facebook users took two personality tests: In one, they were instructed to fill out the answers as themselves; in the other, they were asked to answer questions as though they were the person they present themselves to be on Facebook. For some people, the answers might be more or less the same, while for others they might be wildly different. Participants then filled out an evaluation designed to measure their stress level.
When researchers crunched the numbers, one particular trend became very clear: The bigger the difference between a person's "true self" and their Facebook persona, the more stressed they were.
At first glance, this seems incredibly counter-intuitive. After all, the whole reason we try to portray ourselves a specific way on Facebook is in order to seem cool, or happy, or successful, or any number of other positive attributes we tend to assign social benefits. Making people see us in a positive light is supposed to make us happier and work to our advantage. So why would it backfire?
When you think about it, though, it does fit. For one thing, researchers have already found that people who feel more able to express themselves openly and honestly in real life tend to be less stressed. And given everything we know about the way our brains process things from the "real" world versus the online world — that is, that we actually deal with both of them in much the same way — it makes sense that this rule would also apply not just to your social life. but to your social media life as well.
Plus, it's just common sense that trying to put on an act or be something you're not is exhausting. It takes a lot of mental effort, and it can make you feel like an imposter. Plus, it also carries with it the possibility that you'll be uncovered. The idea that people might realize you aren't as perfect as you claim is stressful in and of itself (even though there's absolutely nothing wrong with not being perfect in the first place).
Now, it is worth noting that this study looked only at stress, not at overall happiness. It is possible that the benefits of creating a more flattering Facebook persona outweigh the downsides. But it's also clear that trying to impress people online aren't without consequences. Plus, there's plenty of research to suggest that trying to seem perfect on social media doesn't always come across the way we expect.
In other words, all those "Be Yourself!" messages we got in middle school aren't just good (if cliché) advice your in-person relationships. They apply online as well.