Adolescents’ Social Comparison on Instagram: An Eye-Tracking Study



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Nearly three-quarters of adolescents report using Instagram, raising concerns about how they are interacting with this social media platform. This study investigated: a) how adolescents visually attend to Instagram posts pulled from their Instagram feeds; b) what types of content adolescents are following on Instagram and how they report experiencing this content, especially in terms of social comparison; and c) how adolescents’ state self-esteem and self-perceptions are immediately influenced after browsing this content, and how individual differences may moderate these relations. Participants included 57 early-to-middle adolescents (ages 12 – 17) and 154 late adolescents (ages 18 and 19). Adolescents browsed a sample of Instagram posts pulled from their Instagram feeds using eye-tracking technology, and completed surveys assessing their personality, well-being, and body image, as well as their experiences with each post that they browsed. These posts were also observationally coded for content. Results suggest that for much of the time, adolescents are not visually fixating on features of Instagram posts believed to be relevant to adolescent development (i.e., the likes). The content followed was quite diverse, with a significant portion coded as peer content. Celebrities and athletes, as well as text-based images and memes, also were common fixtures. Moreover, this content tended to be positively biased. Participants did not typically report adverse reactions after viewing each given post, and instead reported rather positive emotional responses when viewing. There were also contradictory effects on their state self-esteem and self-perceptions. Although individual differences were associated with participants’ self-reported responses to viewing the posts, there was little evidence that these traits moderated effects on state self-esteem and self-perceptions. Age was generally not associated with key variables. Findings suggest that adolescents’ Instagram experiences are quite diverse, and are discussed in consideration with the implications for overall well-being.



Instagram (Firm), Social media, Teenagers, Social comparison, Self-esteem in adolescence