The Psychology of Social Media

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[Taveena Atsu| Features Sub Editor]

Recently, we looked at the psychology of emotions, and now its the turn of social media. Most of us log in to our social networks automatically as part of our daily routine, but there are a lot of underlying reasons for doing so. Here’s, a few explanations for our online interactions.

Although most of us are probably aware of the term ‘social media’, technically speaking social media is the term used to describe the different modes of online communication used by people all over the world. They allow individuals and organisations to share content, contact others, and increase awareness.

Types of Social Media and their uses


There are many different types of social networks, with a number of different uses. For example, there are relationship networks which allow users to have their own profiles, share content with others, send private or public messages, and also view our personal Timeline. These types of networks can be purely social (i.e. Facebook) of for professional reasons (i.e LinkedIn) and help others to build a more personal relationship with their audience.

There are also media sharing platforms (like YouTube, Instagram, or Snapchat), which let users connect with each other through publishing different forms of media. This allows individuals to give their audience more insight into what they’re doing by communicating through different modes (eg audio and visual, as opposed to just words).

There are also social publishing networks (such as blogs, on WordPress or Tumblr) where a range of texts can be shared. Twitter falls into this category too, although it would go under the category of microblogging. These allow users to collaborate, edit, and share each other’s content.

Most of the different types of media are quite similar, so it’s easy for them to fall under more than one category. But they’re all there pretty much for the same reason, to connect with others, and to get yourself (or your business) known. Because there are so many active users, social media platforms make great marketing tools, which is why so many companies are taking advantage of them.

Above, are what I believe to be the most popular types of social media, but there are more, click here to find out.

Theories of Social Media

The social interaction theory of social media suggests that people prefer to communicate digitally, as there is less emotional distress when speaking to others through a computer as opposed to in real life. In 2003, researchers (Sanfey et al) found that individuals responded more negatively to humans than they did to computers. We’re less likely to take online negativity personally this is because  we’re always unconsciously making judgements on other people’s body language, which makes  it easier for us to take offence in face-to-face interactions.

Social Media and ‘Togetherness’


According to psychotherapist Aaron Belick, we are conditioned to need basic things such as food and social interaction, and due to technology, we live in a society that can give us way more than we need. It’s suggested that because social media facilitates social interaction, it taps into our basic needs which is why we use it so much (since there are so many social networks, we’re more more likely to fulfill our needs through them). He compares this to the effect junk food has on us, it’s everywhere, but we need to remember that too much of it can have a negative effect.

First impressions count

People’s online personalities are crucial, as a study in the Psychological Science Journal found that individuals make judgements on others as a result of their profile picture in as little as 40 milliseconds.

Freud’s ‘Id, Ego and Superego’

Freud suggests that we are all made up of three components: the Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id is the aspect associated only with the fulfilment of our physical desires, and will do whatever it takes to satisfy these needs. The Superego is associated with our need to fit in, and stick to the norms and values of society, and the ego is associated with creating a balance between the two, according to Freud.


These all come in to play in our daily interactions with social media, take Facebook for instance: everyone has the physical desire for positive interactions, so our Id comes in to play here. (E.g posting a selfie that people are bound to like, and leave lots of compliments).

A network like LinkedIn, lets others know that we have what it takes to get that dream job, so it would appeal to our Superego. This is because if you want to succeed, it’s the norm to have lots of work experience, and/or a degree, so we reveal information that shows why we would fit into a particular field of work.

And the ego supposedly creates a balance between the two, so you don’t end up bombarding your friends with selfies of yourself, or babbling on LinkedIn to seem more professional. Although these descriptions could be seen as old, they do seem to basically describe some of the underlying reasons for our social media interactions.

Social media addictions

As with anything, it’s easy to go too far when it comes to how much we use social media. According to the Pew Research Center, even though Facebook isn’t expanding as quickly as it was, engagement is at an all time high, with a 63% more engagement from 2013 to 2014. A study from the Psychological Reports Journal even suggests that social media activates the same parts of the brain which are activated by drugs such as cocaine. Click here to see 5 ways social media is changing your brain.

Basically, there’s more to social media than we thought, there are basic needs that we want to fulfil, and sometimes we use social networks to do so, but it’s important to understand our reasons for using social networking sites, and not to go too overboard.

What are your thoughts on social media? Let us know @TridentMediaUK!

#psychology #socialmedia

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