39 Social Media "Likes" Have a Positive Impact on Users in Real Life

Popularity on Social Media is Being Used as a Measure of Self-Worth
As technology continues to dominate the lives of those living in the 21st century, social media has also become a defining element of modern times. With a few simple clicks, users can see the whereabouts, feelings, and opinions of those around them, in addition to people they do not actually know. Social media is used to keep in touch with friends and family, but also to keep in touch with the world.

The easiest way to interact with others on social media is with a "lightweight form[] of communication that one can respond to others' content...with a single click," such as a "like" on Facebook or Twitter (Wohn, Carr, Hayes). These Paralinguistic Digital Affordances, or PDAs, are a factor in which the popularity of a post is based off. Thus, users base their 'real-life' popularity, and sometimes their self-worth, on the number of PDAs received.  

"Likes" are Like a Box of Chocolates, or at Least Seem the Same to Your Brain 

Teenagers, who tend to be among the most avid social media users, have been known to have strong reactions to receiving PDAs. In a study done by Laura Sherman, a researcher at UCLA's Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA's branch of the Children's Digital Media Center, it is shown that when teenagers see a photograph with many likes, it makes their brain feel as though it was rewarded. The teens looked at 140 different images, some of which they submitted themselves. Images with greater amounts of PDAs caused them to have a reaction in the area of the brain which is normally highly active when receiving something deemed rewarding like chocolate or money.

 In addition, the study showed that if a picture had a great number of likes upon seeing it, the teens were more likely to 'like' it themselves. This should be noted, as it can be a potential explanation for pictures or other forms of posts receiving a substantial number of PDAs, and could impact the quality of the PDAs as per the user who posted the picture. 

People with a "sense of purpose" are not as deeply affected by the number of PDAs received on their social media posts. As defined by researchers at Cornell, those with a sense of purpose have an "ongoing motivation that is self-directed, oriented toward the future and beneficial to others," thus they do not find the number of likes to be a major self-esteem booster nor destroyer.

Social Media Users Like to be "Liked"

In the study How Affective Is a "Like"?: The Effect of Paralinguistic Digital Affordances on Perceived Social Support, researchers explored how both the quality and quantity of PDAs impact a user's perceived social support, which is identified as the feedback and support which users feel that they need to collect in order to feel fulfilled. The testers hypothesized that users would be positively affected by receiving a high number of "likes" on a post, in addition to being positively affected if the "likes" were from users in which they have close connections with.

By surveying 323 United States citizens, the researchers were able to interpret how the subjects reacted to receiving PDAs on their posts. The participants were asked to choose out of a list of five social media platforms the one which they had most recently used. Facebook was found to have the highest usage, with 65% of the participants responding that it was their last used platform. The participants were then asked how many PDAs they received on their last post, in addition to questions about who liked the post and how satisfied they were with the feedback obtained.

Not surprisingly, the study presents that both the number of PDAs received and the quality of "likes" received have an impact on the poster. The more PDAs accumulated, the more satisfied they are with the support; similarly, the higher the quality of the PDAs garnered, the more satisfied they are with the support as well, demonstrating that the hypothesis is a fair assessment of the affect PDAs have on social media users.

In addition to providing that the higher quality and quantity of "likes" collected affect users in a positive way in which they are satisfied with the perceived support, the study also found that PDAs can also positively impact a user's self-esteem if they already have a moderate to high level of self-esteem. However, those with a low-esteem are less likely to feel supported or gain confidence due to PDAs received.

As Social Media Rapidly Expands, So Will its Impact on its Users

With advancements in technology not seeming to be on the decline anytime soon, social media will continue to evolve, making it exponentially easier to interact with others throughout the world. With just a click of a button users can acknowledge one another's posts, in a gesture deemed socially supportive.

There are plenty of potential explanations as to why people find themselves feeling more confident or well supported as a result of receiving "likes" on a post, but the fact that PDAs can affect the lives users outside of social media reiterates how powerful and prominent it is in society. Social media platforms will persistently improve, and it's impact on its users will only become greater.

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