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Virtual Features on Social Media Can Deliver Relationship Benefits

New research suggests social media sites with high visual platforms help some young adults develop new and deeper relationships offline. Washington State University researchers say the benefits especially apply to those who are more hesitant to try new experiences.

In the study published online in Computers in Human Behavior, the researchers analyzed survey responses of nearly 700 college-age adults about their perceptions and use of the social media site Instagram.

The analysis found that the young adults liked how Instagram was easy to use as well as the many features of the highly visual platform. This encouraged them to express themselves on the social media site, which in turn led to new and deeper relationships offline.

“Our findings are optimistic: that self-disclosure on Instagram could facilitate friendship development, even if followers were just casual acquaintances at the start,” said Danielle Lee, the study’s lead author and a current doctoral student.

Investigators explain that study results suggest that Instagram had a greater effect on people who ranked low on the personality trait of “openness.” This means that these individuals tend to be more reserved and closed to new experiences than those who ranked high in this trait.

“Studies have shown that in general people who are not extroverted, who might be somewhat shy, find social media platforms an easier way to interact with other people,” said Associate Professor Porismita Borah, a co-author on the paper.

“Instagram is such a visually rich platform and that really helps in self-presentation.”

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey discovered seventy-one of young Americans age 18 to 24 use Instagram. As the WSU study notes, users can follow other people on Instagram without their approval — if their accounts are public — allowing for people to interact who don’t have strong social ties outside of the platform.

Instagram also distinguishes itself from other social networks with its focus on images: users cannot create a post without a visual as they can on Facebook and Twitter. The platform also provides easy ways to control how users present themselves.

“In Instagram, you can change the image the way you want with filters and many different tools before posting it,” said Borah.

“Both media richness and user-friendliness come together in Instagram, which is probably what makes it so appealing to the younger generation.”

Source: Washington State University

Virtual Features on Social Media Can Deliver Relationship Benefits

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Virtual Features on Social Media Can Deliver Relationship Benefits. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Dec 2019 (Originally: 18 Dec 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Dec 2019
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