Home Cyberpsychology & Technology New Study Reveals the Complex Impact of Toxic Positivity on Social Media Users

New Study Reveals the Complex Impact of Toxic Positivity on Social Media Users

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The phenomenon of toxic positivity on social media has recently come to light thanks to a study by the University of Texas at Austin, which revealed its complex effects on users. The research, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, explores the intentions behind overly positive social media posts and their effects on upward social comparison and false self-presentation.

According to popular culture and academic literature, toxic positivity is the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences. This phenomenon is increasingly prevalent on social media platforms, where users often share only the positive aspects of their lives, creating an unrealistic portrayal that can negatively affect others. This study aimed to understand the perceived intentions behind such posts and their subsequent impact on social media behaviours.

The research employed a two-study, multi-method design to develop a measure of perceived toxic positivity intentions (TPI) and examine its implications. Study 1 involved the conceptualisation and operationalisation of perceived TPI through qualitative and quantitative measures. Study 2 investigated the role of perceived TPI in upward social comparisons and false self-presentation behaviours on social media.

The study identified five main perceived intentions behind toxic positivity on social media:

  1. Inauthentic self-promotion. This intention involves presenting a false version of oneself by hiding negative aspects of life. Respondents perceived these posts as attempts to conceal the poster’s real self and problems.
  2. Malicious self-promotion. This category includes posts intended to make others feel jealous or less fortunate. Such posts are perceived as deliberately trying to evoke negative feelings in others.
  3. Personal self-promotion. Posts with this intention are perceived as efforts to gain attention and make others think positively about the poster. These are seen as attempts to appear more interesting, popular, or attractive.
  4. Commercial self-promotion. This intention involves using social media for financial gain or to increase social media followers. Respondents believed that such posts aim to maintain a commercially viable online persona.
  5. Positivity promotion. Unlike the other categories, this intention is perceived more positively, with motivations such as sharing information, ideas, and possibilities to help others.

The research revealed that the perceived intentions behind toxic positivity significantly influence users’ psychological processes and behaviours. Negative perceptions of TPI, such as inauthentic and malicious self-promotion, are associated with greater upward social comparisons and increased likelihood of users sharing false self-presentations . This finding aligns with previous studies indicating that social media can amplify feelings of envy and inadequacy when users compare themselves to the idealised portrayals of others.

Conversely, positive perceptions of TPI, like positivity promotion, are linked to fewer upward social comparisons. But even these posts can still lead to users presenting an idealised version of themselves.

The study’s results underscore the complex nature of toxic positivity on social media and its varied effects on users. As social media becomes an increasingly integral part of daily life, understanding the motivations behind posts and their impact on mental health is crucial. This research provides a foundation for future studies on managing the negative effects of toxic positivity and promoting healthier online interactions.

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