Generation Validation: The Role of Social Comparison in Use of Instagram Among Emerging Adults

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2017 Mar;20(3):142-149. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2016.0444.


Social networking sites (SNSs) provide emerging adults with extreme and unprecedented transparency, exposing them to a plethora of opportunities for social comparison. In light of the growing use of the popular SNS, Instagram, among emerging adults, the purpose of this study was to examine the impact of exposure to social media-based social comparison information on self-esteem. The study recruited 237 participants through social media. The sample was narrowed to young adults aged 18-29 years. The study used a correlational nonexperimental approach to investigate two mediation models proposed in the literature. First, the study investigated the mediating role of social comparison on Instagram in the relationship between intensity of Instagram use and self-esteem. Second, the study examined the mediating role of social comparison in the relationship between self-worth contingent on approval from others and self-esteem. Although the first model was found to be nonsignificant, results observed a significant indirect pathway that confirmed the second model. Thus, social comparison on Instagram mediated the relationship between contingent self-worth and self-esteem. Furthermore, moderation analyses found that self-worth contingent on approval from others moderated the relationship between intensity of Instagram use and social comparison on Instagram. Thus, although Instagram did not directly affect self-esteem, the significant moderation suggested that intensity of Instagram use is influential when the young person's self-worth is contingent on approval from others. Overall, the findings are consistent with previous research and enhance our understanding of the mechanisms that link SNS use to low self-esteem.

Keywords: Instagram; social networks; youth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Media*
  • Social Networking*
  • Social Perception
  • Young Adult