Instagram and Introversion

Previous research suggests strong associations between extroverted and introverted traits and certain user behaviour patterns on social media. Social media use is generally categorised as either active or passive. Active use involves communicating with others, chatting with friends, commenting on photos etc. Passive users can be described as “lurkers”, observing photos and browsing profiles without actively engaging with other people. While active use has been associated with positive outcomes such as social connection and wellbeing, passive use is regularly linked to depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Active and passive usage patterns share certain parallels with extroverted and introverted traits, with active use encompassing traditionally extroverted social behaviours while passive use mirrors reserved introverted attributes. Previous studies have outlined that those high in social anxiety, a trait synonymous with introversion, are more likely to be passive online rather than actively engaging with others (Erwin et. al., 2004). Are introverts confined to a more passive online presence and vulnerable to these negative outcomes? Or could Instagram present a safe online environment for introverts to flourish?

A recent study in Computers in Human Behaviour has contradicted this idea, stating that introverts flourish on Instagram. The research pointed to enhanced feelings of comfort, as users have more control over their self presentation. This has been shown to positively impact friendships. Instagram is the ideal channel for support groups, as it enables users to share Stories, static posts and connect with others going through similar things. Time and again, studies have shown that introverts favour online communication as it eliminates barriers, allows them to compose thoughtful messages and enables them to reach a wider audience and engage in conversation at their own pace. While passive online behaviour may line up with introverted personality traits, it is clear that the standard personality taxonomy inverts in an online environment.

The Social Compensation Hypothesis, or Poor get Richer model, states that individuals who find offline social situations challenging will be more drawn to an online social environment. Introverts classically struggle with social situations and may find solace online, as it gives them ultimate control over self presentation, communication and interaction. Introverts have been found to favour online socialising and tend to choose online interaction over an offline social event. In a study by Ellison et. al. (2007), the social compensation hypothesis was supported as those with lower self esteem and decreased life satisfaction reported higher social capital when using Facebook. According to Caplan (2005), people who experience anxiety with regard to their self presentation are more likely to favour online interaction as they view it as a more comfortable environment. The visual focus of Instagram may be particularly appealing as it gives complete control over self presentation. One of the most widely known motivations for using the Instagram site is self expression and introverts may feel more comfortable expressing themselves online, hence leading to a higher volume of posts.

There have been inconsistent findings with regards to extroverts and their social media behaviours. Research has shown that extroverts largely favour face to face communication over online connection interactions (Muscanell & Guadagno, 2012). Contrasting studies posit that extroverts see social media as an extension of their offline social life and in turn, will often engage in higher levels of social media use (Tosun & Lajunen, 2010; Wang et al., 2012). The inconclusive research suggests that introversion and extroversion are not the primary predictors of social media behaviour.

It is clear that extroverted and introverted behaviours are not accurately reflected in an Instagram environment. Different personality variables must be examined to elicit a clear understanding of user behaviours. Isolating extremes of the Extroversion scale only gives insight into one particular trait rather than the vast array of characteristics which make up human interaction. Correa et al (2010) found that the most regular social media users tended to be extroverted, open but also highly neurotic people. Neuroticism is defined as the level of an individual’s emotional stability and tendency towards insecurity (Amichai-Hamburger et. al., 2002). The contrast between extroverted and neurotic online behaviour may provide more reliable insights in terms of predicting behaviour (Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky, 2010; Ross et al., 2009; Zywica & Danowski, 2008). Narcissism has also been linked to increased posting on social media (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008). Narcissism presents as high self esteem, ambition and an increased sense of entitlement (Swann & Bosson, 2010). Instagram is often linked to narcissistic motivations and due to the concentration of enhanced images and photo filters, narcissism may be a valuable trait to explore in future research.

Instagram currently boasts 1 billion users and is surging in popularity among young people. As Instagram increases in popularity, it is important to examine the evolution of personality on social media. The affordances of Instagram may have blurred the line between extroversion and introversion, however by analysing behavioural patterns, we can gain a deeper understanding into how personality influences Instagram use. Personality variables indeed have an effect on social media user behaviour however it is unlikely that introversion and extroversion are the primary factors. Variables such as self esteem, neuroticism and narcissism may be more accurate in predicting user trends and behavioural patterns (Correa et. al, 2010 ; Verduyn et. al., 2017 ; Sheldon & Bryant, 2016).

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