Instagram photo sharing and its relationship with social connectedness, loneliness and well-being

Julie Maclean

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

While prior research studies have found that social media improves social connectedness, loneliness and well-being, other research has found conflicting findings, where social media usage may have a deleterious effect. Researchers have not consistently differentiated between viewing photos versus sharing photos on Instagram making the impact of social media engagement difficult to gauge. Studies have not investigated the difference between positive and negative social rewards of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and the effect of these online interactions on social connectedness. No studies have considered whether satisfaction with social rewards may be different from the gratification received from the number of social rewards. There is minimal research in relation to the effects of sharing different types of photos, including sharing photos of oneself on social connectedness. Links between social media engagement and loneliness have also lacked theoretical clarity, in part due to a failure to clearly distinguish between state and trait loneliness. Considerations of relationships between social connectedness and welling that may be influenced by photo sharing lacks clarification. Therefore, the aim of this research was to address these gaps in the literature by examining the relationships among social media photo sharing and social rewards with social connectedness, loneliness and well-being.

The hypotheses tested the types of photos shared and variations of social rewards to understand their relationships with social connectedness. The hypotheses also examined whether photo sharing may be a moderating factor influencing the relationships among social connectedness, state or trait loneliness and well-being. Data was gathered from an online survey where 373 participants completed the Social Connectedness Scale (1995), UCLA Loneliness Scale (1996) and the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (2006). In addition, respondents twice completed the UCLA Loneliness Scale to enable determination of whether participants were experiencing state or trait loneliness. Respondents’ self-reported numbers of photos shared of oneself and photos shared of non-self. Social reward variations were collected through self-reported numbers of likes, positive comments and negative comments. An overall rating of satisfaction with social rewards was also collected. Data analysis was performed in SPSS. Pearson’s and Spearman’s test was used to assess the correlations among the different variables. Multiple regression tested the relationships between the independent and dependant variables of the analysis model. Hierarchal regression and the PROCESS add on analysis tested whether photo sharing moderated the relationships among social connectedness, types of loneliness and well-being.

Results found that Instagram photo sharing did not have a direct effect on social connectedness; however, social reward satisfaction had a negative effect on social connectedness. Photos shared of oneself has a positive effect on levels of social rewards, whereas photos of non-self did not predict changes in levels of social rewards. Positive social rewards had no effect on social reward satisfaction or social connectedness. Satisfaction with social rewards decreased when negative comments were received and had no effect on social connectedness. While photo sharing did not have a direct relationship with social connectedness, the results showed that Instagram photo sharing significantly moderated the relationships between social connectedness and loneliness and well-being. High photo sharing levels had the highest moderating effect for state loneliness at low levels of social connectedness and, conversely, at high levels of social connectedness for trait loneliness. The highest levels of photo sharing had the highest moderating effect for well-being levels at high levels of social connectedness.

There are a number of theoretical contributions from this study. Sharing photos of oneself had a significant effect on social rewards, suggesting that selfies, compared to other types of photos, may be more beneficial for generating social rewards. However, the number of social rewards may not constitute social gratification, as satisfaction with social rewards remained high regardless of the number of social rewards and was only negatively impacted when comments on photos shared were perceived as negative or when photo sharing increased. This research is the first to introduce social reward satisfaction as a new measure separately from the number of social rewards. Additionally, this research is the first to identify photo sharing levels as a moderator that predicts relationships among social connectedness, loneliness and well-being, where the highest level of photo sharing had the largest moderating effect.

There are two main limitations that need to be stated. First, the researcher did not access participants Instagram accounts due to privacy issues. Future research could confirm information within Instagram accounts. Second, viewing photos was excluded because the focus of the study was on photo sharing. Future research could also study the effect of photo viewing.

Not only does this research provide a unique opportunity to begin addressing key mental health issues from social media use in today’s society, but it also allows for the targeting of the best use of photo sharing technology to account for the possible shift in social connectedness, loneliness and well-being. The findings can inform future social media photo sharing policies, best-practice standards for future enhancements, and awareness campaigns that ensure the specific needs of those sharing photos so as to maintain optimal social connectedness, loneliness and well-being levels.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Information Technology
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Al-Saggaf, Yeslam, Principal Supervisor
  • Hogg, Rachel, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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