Social media, body image, and the question of causation: Meta-analyses of experimental and longitudinal evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article presents four meta-analyses that can inform causality in the relationship between social media and body image; 24 experimental samples comparing the effect of appearance-ideal social media images to non-appearance-related conditions (n = 3816); 21 experimental samples examining the effect of contextual features (e.g., comments and captions) accompanying appearance-ideal social media images (n = 3482); 14 experimental samples investigating the effect of appearance-ideal images versus other appearance images on social media (n = 2641); and 10 longitudinal samples on social media use and body image (n = 5177). Social media appearance-ideal images had a moderate negative effect on body image (Hedges’ g = −0.61, p <.01), were more damaging in higher- than lower-risk contexts (Hedges’ g = −0.12, p <.01), and were moderately more impactful than other social media appearance images (Hedges’ g = −0.68, p =.05). These effects were smaller but significant with outliers removed. Social media use had a very small, negative correlation with body image longitudinally (Fisher's Z = −0.08, p <.001). No significant moderators emerged. Clinicians should consider approaches to managing social media use, particularly exposure to appearance-ideal imagery, in case conceptualisation and psychoeducation for clients at risk of, or experiencing, body image disturbance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-292
Number of pages17
JournalBody Image
Volume39
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Appearance ideals
  • Body image
  • Fitspiration
  • Meta-analysis
  • Social media
  • Social networking site

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