social sciences

Self-perception and body image

In a highly visual world where ‘the media’ represents specific body types it might be difficult for certain people to build self-esteem. Certain groups might be more susceptible to this, such as teenagers, as their need to belong and fit in might be stronger.

Mental health
Self-perception influences one’s mental health. This relationship has been studied by researchers before. They found a link between how one perceived their weight status and depressive symptoms (1). This effect was also found to be stronger for women.

Men
However, this does not mean that men do not deal with body image issues. In an article from 2004, researchers looked at body dissatisfaction among college men. They found that the men judged themselves to be fatter than they actually were. Though, these men also perceived themselves to be more muscular than they were. Though, they pointed out that they would like to be more muscular than they actually are. The researchers speculate that men are under more pressure to be more muscular due to contemporary media pressures. In this study, females were also asked to describe their preferred body type for males. The findings of the study highlights a discrepancy between what women want and what men think women want. Men assumed women want a man who is much leaner and muscular than the women in the study indicated (2).

‘Elastic’ body image
Researchers have created different models of body image. An article from 1992 describes a model that considers women’s body image, which is influenced by content on TV. This model contains different body images, including: society’s deal body, the internalized ideal body, current body image, and the objective body shape. To test their model, female participants were asked to watch specific imagery. The perception of one’s own body can change after being exposed to only half an hour of television (3).

References

  1. Ali, M. M., Fang, H., & Rizzo, J. A. (2010). Body weight, self-perception and mental health outcomes among adolescents. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 13(2), 53-63.
  2. Olivardia, R., Pope Jr, H. G., Borowiecki III, J. J., & Cohane, G. H. (2004). Biceps and body image: the relationship between muscularity and self-esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of men & masculinity, 5(2), 112.
  3. Myers, P. N., & Biocca, F. A. (1992). The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of communication, 42(3), 108-133.
social sciences

How to deal with stress

Awhile ago I wrote a post on dealing with anxiety. Unfortunately, stress is another negative emotion people experience in their daily lives. While stress can force us to get things done and help us achieve goals, it can also impair us and cause health problems. Hormones involved in being in a stressed state can damage neurons in the brain(1). It affects our immune system, for instance, we can become more susceptible to colds(2). However, it is important to note that most of such consequences are related to chronic stress, which means being in a state of stress for longer periods of time.

In our modern world, there are many different situations which can affect our stress levels. Deadlines at work, school papers, paying the bills, maintaining relationships; each one of us experiences a myriad of stressors in a day. We might not be able to get rid of stress altogether, but we can try to find new ways to deal with it.

  • Having too much on your plate
    • Sometimes you have to say no. There are a lot of important things in our life we want to do. But we can’t do all of them. And if we did try to do all of them at once, we might end up failing at more things we anticipated. Quality over quantity. On the long term, it is more beneficial to focus on a few things, rather than devoting our time to a hundred things at once. We’re often unaware that many things can wait.
  • Get rid of the problem?
    • Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. If something gives you chronic stress, it might be time to get rid of the problem. If you have to write a paper or take a course and you really can’t handle it with rest you got going on right now, maybe it would be better to try again next year or the next opportunity you get. Or maybe your work is severely affecting your mental health, you might want to consider quitting. Look for something that gives you more room to maintain your health.
  • Recognize your temporary emotions
    • Some things we can’t say no to. Not all of us have the privilege to postpone stressful situations that need our attention now, such as planning the funeral of a recently passed away loved one. Therefore, in such situations, it’s important to remember that it’s temporary. This isn’t the first stressful situation you’ve dealt it and it certainly won’t be the last. Remember you’ve tackled problems before and you will continue to do so.
  • Reach out
    • Others can help you. Whether it be to take off some of the load by helping you or to provide you with some moral support. Having your friends or family assure you that you can get through it might just be enough to get rid of some of the stress!
  • Don’t forget to focus on other important aspects
    • Remember to tend to other needs, such as nutrition and sleep. Temporary not eating well or not getting enough sleep for awhile is nothing to worry too much about. But don’t make it a habit. Also, try to convince yourself to get your daily nutritional needs. Emotional eating is a real thing and can be triggered in stressful times. Reaching for junk food might activate an endorphin release, due to the sugars(3). Endorphins make us feel good. We might also overeat, as feeling stuffed makes us feel tired and relaxed. However, you can also achieve this state of relaxation without overeating!
  • Take a break
    • If possible, take a break. Play a game (Sudoku, your favorite video game, a fun game app on your phone), watch TV, go for a walk, hang out with a friend. Moving away from the stressor might help you in the long run. Taking a small break will give you new energy you’ll need to take on your stressor.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
    • If you feel stressed because you aren’t where you want to be in life school-wise, career-wise or anything else, it might be time to re-evaluate. Ask yourself why you need to be anywhere anyway. It’s not a race. The internet is filled with anecdotes of people who wrote their first best-selling book at 50, became a famous actor at 40, got the first real job they liked at 60 or finally overcame their fears at 38. There are only a few times opportunities will only present themselves once. With some out-of-the-box-thinking, you can still get where you need to be even if that means taking an alternative route.

1. Sapolsky, R. M. (1996). Stress, glucocorticoids, and damage to the nervous system: the current state of confusion. Stress, 1(1), 1-19.
2. Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological bulletin, 130(4), 601.
3. Fortuna, J. L. (2010). Sweet preference, sugar addiction and the familial history of alcohol dependence: shared neural pathways and genes. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 42(2), 147-151.

social sciences

Are people becoming more narcissistic?

People love to compare. And this includes looking at the differences between generations. It seems as if ‘millennials‘ are the new scapegoat. However, it’s difficult to define millennials, as different sources use different definitions of the word. Everyone born between approximately 1980 – 2000 are usually dubbed as this ‘new generation’. Thus, we’re talking about people between the ages of ~40-20 roughly. Interestingly, many of the critics often fall between in this age cohort. One of the most recurring critiques includes the supposed increase in selfishness and narcissism. Does taking selfies really indicate narcissism? What is narcissism and did it really increase over the years?

Has narcissism prevalence increased over the years?
Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer. This actually an issue for almost all mental health disorders. Psychology and attributing behaviors to disorders both have been gaining acceptance over the years. This means that we can’t actually accurately compare data from fifty years ago.


First, we lacked valid and reliable measurement tools for each disorder. Second, we lacked knowledge, more research still needs to be done to find out the incidence and implication of a mental disorder. Third, what behaviors are considered to be ‘not normal’ changes through history. Do we still use the same definition of narcissism? Fourth, subgroups of the population have been ignored in terms of mental health. For instance, it seems that more girls suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) than was estimated. This holds true for people with an ethnic background in Western countries as well, these groups are overlooked, their behaviors are more likely to be attributed to their personalities.


So does narcissism increase over the years? Researchers found it is actually a very stable trait and that it didn’t increase(1).

But what exactly is narcissistic personality disorder?
In order to have guidelines in terms of mental health disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was created. This book helps clinicians (e.g. psychologists) make sense of the problems their patients might have. And according to the DSM, the following symptoms are associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

So are ‘millennial behaviors’ an indication of increased narcissism?
Younger people are overrepresented in statistics of internet use and social media use(2,3). So in order to successfully carry out ‘impression management,’ these ages might be more inclined to use social media. In real life, all ages engage in impression management. We want people to see us in a certain light, and when we find out they don’t see us they way we want them to, we will adjust our behaviors. If we want people to perceive us as smart, we might do our best to display behaviors that could signal intelligence. Social media can be an interesting environment for impression management. You can upload selfies that display your ‘good sides’. You can effectively tell a large group of people that you engage in charity work, get good grades, get promotions, go to cool parties, go on nice vacations, etc.


Since we have more control in online settings, we get to edit and think about what we post, we naturally show most of the good stuff. Does that make us narcissists? Probably not. Normal individuals engage in impression management in real life situations, just like we do online. Online there is more room for enhancement.

1. Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 141(2), 261.
2. Distribution internet use according to age
3. Distribution social media use according to age

social media

Facebook and mental health

Facebook has been available to the general public since 2006. Since this time there have been many studies on the effects of Facebook on individual’s mental states. There have also been studies on how personality traits can influence internet use. Facebook is a new environment where people can socialize, this space, which is considerably different from face-to-face communication, can have disparate implications.

One of the major arguments people use when criticizing social media is the idea that it might replace real life interactions. However, this concern seems to be ungrounded, as the opposite is more likely to be true. People still engage in face-to-face interactions, and on top of that communicate through the use of an internet connection. Thus the amount spent socializing has actually increased.
Another issue which is often discussed is that Facebook does not mimic a setting close to real life interaction. Which, at face value, is very likely to be true. First of all, the average amount of Facebook friends is 150. This is not just an arbitrary number, this is referred to as the Dunbar number. Based on our cognitive capacities humans are limited to maintaining this number of relationships.
Third, the content that is shared and posted doesn’t always match the discussed content in real life. For instance, people seem to be more likely to share their positive milestones and experiences. Entering such a space, from a hypothetical standpoint, could affect your mental state. People might start to feel like negative emotions or occurrences are unusual, and from this they will infer that something is wrong with them.

Depression
Moreno et al. (2011) looked at depressive symptoms displayed on Facebook profiles of college students. In order to identify these symptoms, they used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is a book used by many different professionals, including psychologists, to recognize mental disorders. For this study, they used the criteria of a major depressive episodeThey found that 25% of the profiles they studied disclosed symptoms of depression. And 2.5% displayed symptoms of an actual major depressive episode. The authors of this article refer to suicide in relation to Facebook being a much talked about topic in the media nowadays. Recently a teen took her own life while broadcasting this using the Facebook Live tool. Because of such events and the fact that Facebook users do sometimes display symptoms online, the researchers opt for identifying those at risk and making sure they receive further clinical evaluation.

Envy
Krasnova et al. looked at envy on Facebook. They asked respondents what kind of reasons others might have for experiencing negative emotions using this social media site. And one of the most picked reasons was envy, or upward social comparison. Afterward the participants had to indicate what exactly could elicit such feelings, with travel and leisure being the top reason. They also find that 20% of the times people felt envious, it was elicited by Facebook use.

Well-being
Kim and Lee (2011) looked at self-reported well-being and Facebook. They posited that the amount of Facebook friends could be associated with people’s well-being. And that is exactly what they found in their sample of college students, more friends mean higher well-being. This wasn’t because they perceive more social support but according to the researchers it is more likely to be an enhancement of self-worth.
In terms of social support, they find a  negative curvilinear association with the amount of friends. Most likely due to the fact that maintaining a few close relationships is important for social support, and that the number of friends is not important in this regard.
Positive self-presentation on Facebook also positively influences people’s well-being. The authors point out that people like having positive feelings about themselves, and that presenting yourself in such a way can increase your subjective well-being.

Dunbar, R. I. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of human evolution, 22(6), 469-493.

Kim, J., & Lee, J. E. R. (2011). The Facebook paths to happiness: Effects of the number of Facebook friends and self-presentation on subjective well-being. CyberPsychology, behavior, and social networking, 14(6), 359-364.

Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T., & Buxmann, P. (2013). Envy on Facebook: A hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction?.

Moreno, M. A., Jelenchick, L. A., Egan, K. G., Cox, E., Young, H., Gannon, K. E., & Becker, T. (2011). Feeling bad on Facebook: depression disclosures by college students on a social networking site. Depression and anxiety, 28(6), 447-455.