Being honest on social media has its mental health perks, suggests recent research published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Researchers recruited 164 anonymous Facebook users to take a pair of personality tests — they took one as their seemingly true selves and the other as the persona they presented themselves as on Facebook. Researchers then calculated how far apart these assessments were from one another, and also measured their levels of stress, life satisfaction, depression, anxiety, and social connectedness. Ultimately, they found that the truer people’s Facebook selves were, the less stress and more socially connected they reported feeling.

“It appears that some of the benefits of authenticity in offline self-presentation may also extend to acting authentically on Facebook, with presentation of the true self on Facebook associated with a greater sense of social connectedness and lower stress,” concluded the authors.

As the researchers explain, people who feel free to express themselves as honestly as possible in the outside world are known to be generally happier and have higher self-esteem. Because many people are reluctant or are afraid to be themselves in face-to-face settings, though, some researchers have theorized that social media can allow people to be authentic in a less pressure-filled situation. The current study is the first to examine whether doing so online can provide similar mental health benefits.

Because being more authentic on Facebook wasn’t associated with less reported depression, life satisfaction or anxiety, though, it might be the case that it’s not quite as effective a setting. The researchers theorized that because most people feel encouraged to put on a happy face while online, those who are especially depressed or dissatisfied may shy away from presenting their true selves on Facebook. On the flip side, the relationship between stress and being honest on Facebook may work both ways, such that people who are generally less stressed out about life also feel less incentive to craft a radically different Facebook profile.

Regardless, the researchers believe that their findings highlight the important role that Facebook and similar outlets may play with keeping our mental health in tip-top shape. For example, they speculated, people can use Facebook to improve their coping skills by being honest about their problems when asking for help, which would then reduce their overall stress levels about the situation.

“Similarly, if feelings of social connectedness can be obtained through authentic presentation of the self on Facebook, then encouraging sincere self-presentation on Facebook as a means to improve social connectedness should also be considered,” they wrote.

They added: “As such, it may be prudent for mental health professionals to consider the role of Facebook in their clients' lives.”

Source: Grieve R, Watkinson J. The Psychological Benefits of Being Authentic on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2016.

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