Are You a Negative Nelly?

Facebook users with low self esteem post negative comments causing distaste

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you are consistently pessimistic on Facebook, you may be causing some of the online community to dislike you, new research finds.  

A Canadian professor and her student discovered that people with low self-esteem tend to post negative comments on the social media site, creating distaste among strangers viewing their page.  

"Stay positive - on and offline."

Joanne Wood, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Waterloo University in Ontario, and graduate student, Amanda Forest, setup three Facebook studies to determine whether or not online social networking enhanced the life of people with low self-esteem.

Although they thought disclosing on Facebook could help bolster confidence levels and give people with less social confidence “the opportunity to enhance their social connections,” they discovered that much depends on the outlook of the Facebooker.

Undergraduate students in their studies granted the researchers access to their page, answered questions about themselves and their Facebook experience, and some even judged the posts and profiles of others.  All participants received emotional assessments to determine their confidence levels relative to their peers.

Within the first study, the pair questioned 80 undergraduates about how they felt disclosing information via Facebook. Their responses demonstrated to Forest and Dr. Wood that people with low self-esteem (LSE) found the social networking site to be a better opportunity to reach out and make connections than those with higher self-confidence.  

LSE users felt safer online and were more likely to "see advantages to disclosing on Facebook over in person."  

177 students participated in study two, where Dr. Wood and Ms. Forest brought in more students as well as recruited random “coders” to provide an unbiased judgments of their peers. Pulling the last ten status messages from the students, 4 coders judged each status on a scale of 1-9 in several categories, including its degree of positivity and the overall likability of the Facebooker.

In both categories, the less confident were rated substantially lower. The coders thought their posts were too negative and pessimistic, cultivating feelings of impartiality and distaste from the strangers viewing their profiles. On the contrary, those with high self-esteem typically posted more optimistic and positive commentary and were well liked.  

The final study dove deeper into the second study's results.  Looking at 98 participants and their Facebook friends' responses to their last ten posts, the pair found that LSEs who switched their patterns and tried out positive posting increased "likes" and "comments."  On the contrary, those who tend to post positively received more feedback from their friends when they were negative, suggesting that our Facebook friends notice our inconsistencies.

Overall, Dr. Wood''s research suggests that the less confident were still excited to use Facebook and consider it a great opportunity, but they might encounter more friction along the way. Nonetheless, the results imply a quick fix for LSEs hoping to increase their online clout: just be positive!   

Findings were published in the journal Psychological Science on February 1, 2012.  The study was self-funded and no conflicts were reported. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 9, 2012
Last Updated:
February 11, 2012