Social Media, Social Comparisons, the Self, and Relationships

Destinee Sinclair, Katie Caldwell, Megan Karau, and Brianna Webster (Advisor: Danielle Findley Van-Nostrand)

Background Information

Social media is generally perceived as a fun activity to pass time, but there is no denying that social comparisons are abundant and practically unavoidable and can have detrimental consequences to the health and well-being of those who internalize them. Our study focused on young adults’ social comparison orientation via social media and its relation to self-esteem and relationship insecurity. Previous research has found that individuals tend to compare themselves more to others on social media when they spend more time on social media and this might have a negative association with self-esteem and subjective well-being (Vogel et al., 2014). Furthermore, research also indicates that social comparison behavior and increased social media use influences our perceptions of relationship quality and satisfaction (Neyer & Voigt, 2004; Yacoub et al., 2018). It was our purpose to explore and establish distinct relationships between social media use and social comparison behavior, self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust in an effort to further understand the implications that social media and mechanisms related to social media has on our concept of self and our relationships.


For the purpose of our study, we specifically focused on social comparison orientation via social media and its relation to self-esteem and relationship insecurity. We hypothesized that our target population of college students spend significant amounts of time on social media, comparing themselves to others, and therefore negatively impacting their relationship quality and self-concepts. In particular, we expected that engaging in upward social comparisons (evaluating others as above or better than you) would be related to problems. To test this theory and measure social media usage and its relationship with self-esteem and relationship quality, we first recruited participants online to participate in our survey which utilized various measures. Regarding our measures of social media usage, we used a subset pulled from the Media and Technology Usage and Attitudes scale. To measure upward and downward comparisons on social media, we used the Scale for Social Comparison Orientation, and for self-esteem we utilized the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. For the last measure in our study, two subscales from the CAT-Personality Disorder Scales Static Form and a 7 item-measure to measure relationship insecurity and mistrust. 

Results and Discussion

We expected social media to have a positive relationship with both social comparison measures and have a negative relationship with self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust. What we found was not as expected, social media use was only mildly positively associated with social comparison orientation; the relationship between social media use and upward/downward social comparisons was not significant. We also found that social media use was positively related to self-esteem but only when controlling for both social comparison measures, but there were no significant relationships shown between social media use and relationship insecurity or mistrust. Next, we looked for the associations of social comparison orientation and upward/downward social comparisons with self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust. We hypothesized that social comparison behavior would negatively correlate with self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust, however, what we found was slightly different.  We found a negative relationship between self-esteem and both social comparison measures that were moderate in strength but found positive associations between both our social comparison measures and relationship insecurity and our mistrust measure. Our results imply that social media use might be directly related to social media orientation, but that there might be another mechanism about social media use that influences self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust. This indicates that it is not necessarily social media use that directly impacts our self-esteem, relationship insecurity, and mistrust, but rather the activities we are engaging in, like social comparison, on social media that then become harmful to ourselves and our relationships.


This (almost) semester-long project has taught us a lot about the process of completing and finishing out a study. The process of working with different minds was so interesting and honestly added so much to our project. When deciding what we wanted to do, we really bonded over the topic we chose to study. Social media is something that is really big in all of our lives just as much as relationships and the self. When creating the study itself, the process of finding the right questions and specific scales for our study was a little difficult. When creating a study, you want everything to come across the way that you intended it to. The best part of this process was getting our data back and being able to analyze it.


Neyer, F. J., & Voigt, D. (2004). Personality and social network effects on romantic relationships: a dyadic approach. European Journal of Personality, 18(4), 279–299.

Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206–222.

Yacoub, C., Spoede, J., Cutting, R., & Hawley, D. (2018). The Impact of Social Media on Romantic Relationships. Journal of Education and Social Development, 2(2), 53-58.




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