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What Does a Like Do to Your Mood?

6 Myths About Social Media's Favorite Form of Validation

From veteran leaders like Facebook and Twitter to the new guard of Instagram and Snapchat, social media platforms are everywhere, engaging nearly everyone in the United States. In fact, some estimates report 78 percent of Americans have at least one social media profile.

As a result, scientists have begun to turn their attention to the health effects of social media. One of the most commonly cited studies found that 53 percent of users said social media changed their behavior. Furthermore, some experts believe that social media fosters an environment where disordered thoughts and behavior thrive and so, it’s little surprise that certain types of social media use are associated with anxiety, depression, disordered eating and low self-esteem.

Yet, these platforms also offer valuable opportunities for socialization and identity development, and most social media use does not result in significant damage.

What Does a Like Mean?

Using social media can create a pre-occupation with feedback validation. A weeklong workshop hosted by a popular women’s lifestyle blog revealed just how much social media likes can matter to teens – to the extent that most attendees agreed that there is a constant, often anxiety-inducing, preoccupation with likes. The teens used terms like “The 100 Club” to refer to levels of success (membership requires averaging 100 likes on a post) and told stories about intense reactions when their numbers dropped. They reported feeling a sense of competition to have the most popular posts and admitted believing in a correlation between likes and social standing.

However, they also reported feeling a boost in self-esteem from “likes” and, from what research reports, their feelings aren’t totally off-base.

According to a recent study, teens brains reacted the same to receiving a large number of “likes” on their photos as eating chocolate or winning money. The brain scans revealed that the “likes” activated the reward, social and visual attention parts of the brain. Furthermore, the scientists found that teens factored the number of existing likes into their decision whether to “like” a photo. According to the scientists, teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many of their peers, even if the peers are strangers.

But teens aren’t the only ones susceptible to dopamine rushes from retweets or like-induced crises of self-esteem. A quick scan of the internet reveals more than one adult admitting to texting friends to ask for likes or deleting a post that hasn’t received an adequate number of responses. Social networks do, somewhat inherently, measure reach and popularity. But, the posts and tweets on your profile, as well as the responses they receive, do not have the direct correlation to real life that the voice in the back of your head may suggest.

That said, everyone’s a little susceptible sometimes, so here are six myths about social media and what to remember when looking at your likes.

6 Myths About Likes

  • Myth #1: The More Likes You Get, the More Popular You Are. The number of likes on a post depends on any number of factors: the size of your network, your social media habits, the habits of those you connect with, and what you choose to share. Popularity is a complicated concept and while making new friends and being well-liked may be important to you, likes are a hard bar by which to judge.

  • Myth #2: Lots of Likes Equals Lots of Close Relationships. Everyone has someone in their network who absolutely excels at social media, racking up an incomparable number of likes on every post. But you can’t confuse likes with the rest of life: meaningful relationships are a different metric and an important component of your emotional health.

  • Myth #3: The Friend With 100s of Likes Is Living a Perfect Life. There is a saying on the internet about social media induced insecurity and it’s worth reiterating: Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. That perfect vacation selfie with hundreds of likes? That’s a highlight.

  • Myth #4: Likes From Family and Friends Don’t Count. A lot people write-off likes from family members and best friends, considering them the baseline response to any post. But don’t belittle the relationships that are always there when you want validation – they’re the first text when your numbers are down.

  • Myth #5: You Need a Strategy. Texting friends for likes is fairly innocuous, but no need to overthink things. Social media use should be carefree and fun.

  • Myth #6: You Should Only Post About What People Have Already Liked. Post what you want, what makes you happy and proud or what you want the world to see. Likes will align and they’ll be all the more meaningful for being true to you.

Social media has become a prevalent part of most people’s daily lives and it’s easy to let it influence your self-esteem and sense of validation. While there’s no harm in getting a mood boost from a few Facebook likes, if you feel yourself reacting too strongly to the interactions on your social media pages, it may be worth taking a step back. Remember, self-care and making time for your emotional health go hand-in-hand – and don’t need to rely on social media.