‘Like’-minded conformity: Instagram use heavily influenced by one’s need to belong

SYDNEY — Why do people use social media? It’s a relatively simple question, but one that almost certainly carries a complicated answer. Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia set out to determine what motivates people to use the popular social media platform Instagram, and found that a desire to belong was a significantly strong predictor of more frequent Instagram use.

Instagram has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity over recent years, but many believe it is promoting a shallow, vain culture. Users share enhanced pictures on the platform in hopes of garnering as many “likes” as possible, a structure that has incentivized countless users to project an image of themselves that isn’t realistic.

Many believe that Instagram’s seemingly never ending parade of beautiful “influencers” and luxurious destinations has caused many people to view their own lives and appearances negatively in comparison.

So, why do people continue to log on and post pictures of themselves? According to researchers, many frequent Instagram users are motivated to use the platform by a desire to fit in with other people and belong.

A total of 313 Instagram users with a median age of 22 were analyzed for the study. Each participant filled out an online survey between March and September 2017 that asked why they use Instagram, how often they use it, and their perceived social support. Researchers then used various analysis techniques to examine the complex relationships between all three factors.

The authors found that a greater desire to belong accurately predicted more frequent Instagram use, and more perceived social support, both in general and from significant others or friends. However, frequency of Instagram use alone did not predict perceived social support. In a nutshell, this means that people with a strong desire to belong are more likely to use Instagram, but simply using Instagram a lot isn’t going to necessarily bring about more support or “likes” from peers.

“In his well-known ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ Abraham Maslow found the need to belong is one of the five innate human needs,” says Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of the study’s publishing journal, in a statement. “Understanding how Instagram and other image-based SNS may help individuals fulfill this need is important as more of our lives are played out online.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

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John Anderer

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