Trending News: Social media envy has neurological ties to how people process rewards
Envy – it’s one of the seven deadly sins and can lead to the corruption of your sense of self-worth and happiness. It’s when you covet the traits or possessions of someone else.
Envy can also be directed negatively at another person. That’s when you wish bad things will happen to someone just because you feel that their life is better than yours.
Envy is a primordial failing for humanity as evidenced by the story of Cain and Abel.
In the biblical book of Genesis, Cain murdered his brother Abel because he was envious of God’s favor toward him. It’s such a pernicious quality that it’s even included in the Ten Commandments. Thou shall not covet…
Envy is older than dirt, but it’s taken on new dimensions with the rise of social media. With apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, people are exposed to perfectly-filtered images that arouse our feelings of jealously, vanity and envy.
How we view our own social status seem to be directly influenced by the perception of the social status of others.
There was an insightful study published in the Nature Neuroscience journal that looked at the neurological triggers for envy.
Researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences trained pairs of macaques to receive certain rewards together and the scientists recorded their physiological responses. They used macaques in the research because of their genetic similarities to humans.
The researchers identified specific physiological reactions such as licking of the lips as an indicator of appreciation for a reward and they also measured brain activity when rewards and treats were handed out.
The study showed that a macaque placed lesser value on its own treats when its partner also received the same treat. Yet, when one macaque was favored over the other, that test subject was happier with their own reward.
To summarize the findings of the study, corresponding author Masaki Isoda said, “When water was provided into a bucket, rather than a fellow macaque, in these cases, signs of envy were not exhibited.”
In other words, the test subjects viewed their own reward through the subjective lens of their social surroundings. A reward was given less value when the macaque’s partner had the same reward, but they experienced a greater sense of envy when the reward system was one-sided or even neutral.
The grass is truly greener in someone else’s yard, not just neutral space.
This study sheds light on what people experience when they look at profile pages on social media, too. When you see someone else’s vacation photos, you’re more likely to experience envy than if you just looked at random images of vacation destinations.
Snapshots that Paint Inaccurate Pictures
Yet, there’s a false equivalent at play here. Social media doesn’t provide you with a true perspective of peoples’ lives – just snapshots of their best moments.
To gain perspective on social media envy, we reached out to Erika Martinez, Psy.D., CDWF, a licensed Psychologist practicing in Miami. She agreed that “People forget that they’re seeing the best curated 2% of someone’s life as they scroll through their feeds.
They take that 2% and generalize it to 100%. They start to feel like they fall short, are boring, not good enough, etc. Eventually, it leads to more depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and perfectionism of trying to keep up an image. The real person gets lost under the illusion of a perfect veneer.”
There’s been a rise in psychological studies surrounding social media in recent years and researchers have been trying to better understand how social media affects the way people think and behave.
Most of the results seem to highlight the negative psychological effects of social media, but there haven’t been many studies that specifically search for positive benefits.
Dr. Martinez is also closely examining the latest research. She says that “This digital world we’re living in is definitely wreaking havoc on our mental health, with Instagram being the biggest culprit according to the research I’ve seen.”
What about the aspect of envy that makes you want to see a person fail? Haven’t you heard stories of “lurkers” – people who aren’t actively engaging with your content on social media, but they don’t want to unfriend you or stop following your timeline feed?
The recent study on macaques might lend further clarity here, as well. The authors of the study believe that this has a natural psychological function.
When humans had to compete more for limited resources and potential mates, someone’s success was almost always linked to someone else’s failure. When a social peer gained resources, that meant that there were fewer resources available for oneself.
So, when someone keeps lurking around to see negative posts from someone that make them green with envy, it might just mean that there’s a psychological trigger that considers someone’s loss as their own status gain.