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Student Research Guide WQ23/ Harmful Effects of Instagram on Teenage Girls

Major Findings From This Research

Major Findings:

1. Instagram causes body image issues:

  • According to the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, the exposure of teenage girls to pictures of “thin” girls on Instagram can lead to increasingly negative thoughts regarding themselves, and higher levels of body image dissatisfaction, suggesting a direct link between problematic Instagram use and body image dissatisfactoin (Yurdagül et al).  Company documents from Facebook’s internal message board, cited in the Wall Street Journal, reveal the following: “'Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse...Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves... We make body issues worse for one in three teen girls’” (Wells et al).

2. Instagram is addictive:

  • Instagram has a “like” feature that allows users to show their appreciation for other users’ posts. A study referenced in Forbes discovered that every time a user’s post is liked, reward centers in their brains light up (Elsesser). Teenagers begin to crave the likes on their posts and check their posts multiple times a day to see how many likes they’ve gotten. When this and the flashy, filter-enhanced pictures that can be scrolled through in seconds are combined, Instagram is a draw to many teenagers that is extremely difficult to resist.

3. Instagram causes depression and anxiety: 

  • A study done by the Royal Society for Public Health has found that rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, and that use of Instagram makes those feelings of anxiety worsen (Cramer & Inkster). This by itself does not suggest a direct linkage of Instagram with the increase of depression and anxiety. However, other researchers did a study where a group of students reduced their social media use for three months, while a control group used their social media just as much as before – and after the three months, the first group reported decreased feelings of loneliness and depression (Elsesser).

4. Instagram causes suicidal ideation:

  • It’s been found that 6% of American users who suffer from suicidal ideation have traced their suicidal thoughts back to Instagram (Wells et al). An example is this statement from a 14-16-year-old from a study done by the Royal Society for Public Health: “'Bullying on Instagram has [led] me to attempt suicide and also self-harm. Both caused me to experience depressive episodes and anxiety’” (Cramer & Inkster). A risk on Instagram is being exposed to content that promotes and/or encourages self-harm, and even suicide. In fact, a study mentioned by The Minds Journal reveals that 80% of the study participants have encountered suicidal ideation on Instagram, and 25% of the participants had expressed suicidal thoughts on Instagram themselves (Harrison).

5. Instagram officials are aware of these issues:

  • Instagram and Facebook executives know exactly what’s going on in the minds of teenage girls related to Instagram. According to the Wall Street Journal, Meta’s internal documents clearly indicate a direct correlation between harms in teen girls and Instagram use. When a company whistleblower, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, released these studies to the public in September 2021, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said he felt that the data showed only a very small harm to teenagers (Elsesser; Wells et al). According to the Wall Street Journal, “The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core” (Wells et al). 

Research Advice and Reflection

Research Reflection:

Research for this topic provided a lot of different results. My research question in the beginning was: What are the negative impacts of social media on young users? As I conducted further research, the question became more specific: What are the negative effects of Instagram on teenage girls? This made the research process more focused and turned up results more specific to my topic. While my research progressed, I made new connections to other aspects of the issue that enhanced my general understanding of my topic. I also realized how important it is to analyze information for quality, credibility, and relevance, because there's a lot of information out there, but it might not be the best piece of information or the best source for my specific project with a set goal.

One aspect of my research that was difficult was finding things that were focused solely on Instagram and not on other areas of social media. The best way for me to find things that focused on Instagram was for me to use Boolean operators (and, or, not) and use specific search terms.

Advice for Future Researchers:

Keep an open mind. While I was researching, I had a set idea of what I was going to write. As I continued my research, I encountered new ideas, perspectives, and questions that made me think more critically about what I was going to say. The focus of my research shifted. What enabled me to have an end result I was proud of was the mindset of: "Okay, what new thing does this make me think? Where does my research go from here, given this new information? How is this relevant to my thesis and my main idea? How does this apply to my other points?" By keeping these things in mind, future researchers won't be confused or discouraged when they run across information that seems to derail their research. By thinking of it as not derailing but shifting, or refocusing, future researchers can avoid the frustration and confusion of researching.

Citation for Video

Video Citation

This source did not make the Top Ten list, but it was a helpful source and is referenced in this guide. Here is the complete citation:

  • VIDEO SOURCE: "From Instagram To TikTok: The UGLY truth about beauty filters and the rise of Snapchat Dysmorphia."  Lovelyti TVNov. 2022, YouTube

    • This source is interesting because it discusses an aspect of Instagram that's bad for not just teenage girls but most females across a broad age range.This source gives an insight into some certain parts of Instagram that contribute to this issue and discusses fallout in many areas of society.

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