Social Comparisons on Instagram and Adolescent Identity Development: A Mixed-Methods Study

NOON, Edward John (2020). Social Comparisons on Instagram and Adolescent Identity Development: A Mixed-Methods Study. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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The formation of a coherent and synthesised sense of identity is a key developmental task for adolescents, and over the past decade, young people have increasingly been using social networking sites (SNSs) as platforms for self-expression, self-construction, and identity exploration. Whilst previous research has evidenced how self-presentations on SNSs can inform identity development, less is known about the identity implications of other-focused SNS behaviours. To shed light on this gap in the literature, this investigation drew upon social comparison theory to examine how social comparisons on Instagram inform the process of identity development during adolescence. Following the sequential explanatory design, an initial cross-sectional survey of British adolescents sought to determine the linear relationship between ability and opinion comparisons on Instagram and three key identity processes (commitment, in-depth exploration, and reconsideration of commitment). The moderator effects of age, gender, and Instagram network composition (network homophily and tie strength) were also examined. Subsequent qualitative interviews with adolescents built upon the results of the quantitative analysis and explored the nuances and mechanisms which may help to explain them. Overall, findings indicate that social comparisons on Instagram are not inherently ‘bad’ for young people (as is often suggested by the media and academic literature), and that both ability and opinion comparisons on the platform can support identity development during adolescence by increasing self-focus, strengthening commitments, and prompting further exploration. Nevertheless, females were more prone to experiencing the maladaptive implications of competitive ability comparisons on Instagram, whilst developmental maturity informed the comparison targets most supportive of identity development. Results therefore evidence the importance of Feed curation for ensuring that comparisons on Instagram have adaptive outcomes for young people, and the implications that these findings have for future research and practical work are discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Merchant, Guy [0000-0001-8436-7675]
Thesis advisor - Stirling, Eve [0000-0001-8989-4984]
Thesis advisor - Culliney, Martin [0000-0002-7329-8675]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Prof. Guy Merchant / Supervisors: Dr. Eve Stirling and Dr. Martin Culliney.
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2021 14:32
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:08

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