Science

Are social networks making us worse people?

Marta Giménez, PhD in Psychology, psychologist and head of the Research and Innovation area of our centre Área Humana, has participated in the magazine “Yo Dona” of El Mundo, to debate the influence of social networks on people, together with María Hinojosa, actress, on musical stages (Cabaret, The Hole…), on television in series such as Amar en tiempos revueltos and El Continental. She is about to make her first big screen appearance with My Lost Love, along with Dani Rovira and Michelle Jenner.

What do you think they’ll answer to questions like…: Do nets bring out the worst in us? And if so, how can we solve it? Is the success of the influencers not a symptom of this phenomenon and, at the same time, a problem? Isn’t the reason for so much life exposed on the nets precisely to provoke envy in others?

A Facebook user told her partner about meeting a former college friend on that social network: “You don’t know how she lives. Puestazo, travelling all over the world, home in a luxury urbanization… I admit it, I have felt unhealthy envy. The only thing that has relieved me is knowing that I was divorced and didn’t have a partner.

And this is not an isolated case. Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan (USA), is familiar with the effect of social networks on human behavior. For years he has been analyzing the emotions generated by virtual interactions and this is his conclusion: “Envy is being taken to the extreme. We are constantly bombarded by Photoshop lives and that has negative consequences as we have never experienced in the history of our species.

María Hinojosa: Yes, they vomit a lot of anger and frustration, and at the same time they try to feed the ego while criticizing others. They are the epicenter of envy. How is it possible that so many people are bothered that others are doing well?

Marta Giménez: Let’s not be so radical. They also have a positive and beneficial use. They are a projection of what we are as a society and therefore reflect that polarization in which we live: on the one hand, perfect lives are taught, perfect children, perfect smiles… and, in response, reactions of frustration and vexation are generated. We generally don’t have the wonderful experiences that others show, and often our lives don’t even coincide with what we show there.

María Hinojosa: These negative reactions are too frequent. I have suffered it. When I hang an image in which I look a little bit like my body, I have quite a few likes, but if I count that I have done well with a project or if I appear happy with my partner, I have less and even lose followers.

So more than ever, envy is the national sin…
Mary: Sure. The networks have sharpened that resentment, because before one envied only one’s neighbor or co-worker, but now one envies half the world. We would be happier and learn more about life if instead of envying we admired the qualities or talent of those who deserve it.

Marta: This negative effect is more common in young people, because they live their virtual environment as part of their identity. They are or want to be what they see in the nets, and that causes them great dissatisfaction. The clearest example is the cult of image and hypersexualization: there is always someone prettier or sexier. Even if you upload a great picture of yourself and then you see yourself at another time when you are not so favored, it generates a sense of failure.

Maria: It’s no longer just how frustrating these comparisons can be, it’s that you often have to endure the damaging criticism of whoever is seeing you, probably also the product of envy.

They have sharpened the resentment, because before one envied the neighbor, but now one envies half the world.

How can we fix it?
Mary: To a great extent it is an individual work that involves emulating what is good and assuming one’s own limitations. Avoiding frustration and looking for what fills you, what amuses you. People lack initiative to take their own paths. Let’s stop being so attentive to the outside and look inside.

Marta: Several studies differentiate between passive and active use of networks, and the conclusions have to do with what you are saying. Those who limit themselves to seeing and receiving messages for hours without participating tend to fall into what we psychologists call the rumination process, that is, a harmful reflection on what they see that gives rise to feelings of guilt, shame, sadness and envy, because they are not capable of being part of that world they contemplate. Those who are more proactive in networks will probably find other motivations by exchanging opinions.

Mary: It would be good if they were aware that much of what is seen in them are masks, pure theater. We cannot be envious of a lie.

Marta: It’s curious, even though we know that much of what we see is false, we assume it as real.

Isn’t the success of the influencers a symptom of that phenomenon and, at the same time, a problem?
Mary: Yes, that’s right. We live in a contradiction that confuses us. On the one hand we are told that we have to love ourselves, value ourselves and assume our defects, but on the other hand we are surrounded by those supposed referents that show how to dress and how well one lives having style and being beautiful. It is a factory of frustration and anger when young people try to imitate them.

Marta: The phenomenon of influencers should make us reflect on the values that we are reinforcing in our society. Of course, this has little to do with the ideal of encouraging self-esteem, emotional self-regulation and critical thinking that helps us make healthy choices.

Isn’t the reason for so much life exposed in the nets precisely to provoke envy in others?
Maria: You could respond to that by observing the activity in the networks of couples who have just broken up. The exes fill their Instagram with photos with friends, always animated, happier than ever. Objective? To provoke jealousy or a certain resentment in the other. That’s what everybody does. We like to brag and cheat, and that always leads to negative emotions.

Marta: Actually, we have always done the same thing. In human relationships the best and the worst thing about us comes out, what happens is that now those attitudes have an enormous loudspeaker and much more repercussion. We need to provoke reactions and emotions, gain followers and generate adversaries, so I don’t think networks make us worse, they just make us more visible.

Human relationships bring out the best and the worst in us.

Human relationships bring out the best and the worst in us, what happens is that now these attitudes have a huge speaker and much more impact.

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