When you’re scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, do you ever stop to think about how you’re being subtly influenced by what you see? It could be a number of things influencing you--for example, seeing images with a lot of likes makes you more likely to like that image, as opposed to an image with fewer likes. These types of influences can have an especially powerful impact on choices we make about our health; research has documented that social media can affect the choices, good or bad, people make about maintaining a healthy life.
The psychology behind social media and its influence on human behavior and health was recently examined in a research study published in Appetite, which examined the correlation between highly liked imagery on social media and eating habits.
The study involved participants ages 18-48, who were given two types of Instagram photos to look at--images of healthy food (mostly fruits and vegetables) and images of higher calorie foods, such as cakes, biscuits and pastries. Participants also looked at non-food related imagery. Each image had different numbers of likes--from a few to a lot. After viewing these images, participants were given access to grapes or cookies to see which they would choose to eat.
Researchers noted that grapes were consumed about 14% more of the time than the cookies, suggesting a potential correlation between viewing highly liked/endorsed images and eating choices and behaviors.
Professor Claire Farrow at Aston University noted that “The findings suggest that people do not simply passively view information about what other people are eating online, but that this digital information can shape our food preferences and choices, particularly when we think lots of other people like certain foods. It is promising that exposure to healthy foods, and likes of those foods, was related to greater intake of healthy foods.”
Researchers noted that the development of targeted messaging for people, including encouraging people to follow social media accounts that have a lot of influence and promote positive eating, could help encourage others to follow similar habits. The next step, according to researchers, is to have participants follow live Instagram accounts, rather than viewing the mock images created for this study. This will provide more insight into how user activities on social media sites actually influence behavior related to eating.