When Image Isn’t Everything: The Effects of Instagram Frames on Social Comparison

Jennifer Lewallen


In recent years visual social media have become increasingly popular mechanisms for communication.  Past research suggests links between using social media, upward social comparison, and negative affect.  The present online experiment of U.S. women (N = 58) takes a media psychology approach to understanding how text frames on image-based social media contribute to social comparison and perceptions of the self. Findings suggest that individuals who were in a body-positive experimental condition reported higher levels of self-esteem than did the women in a body-negative experimental condition. Those in the negative conditions ranked significantly higher on state social comparison with the images than those in the positive condition. Additionally, women who compared themselves to the women in the experimental images were also more likely to fantasize that they could achieve the look and lifestyle of the women featured in the images. Findings are discussed in light of framing theory and social comparison theory and suggestions are made for future experimental work.


Social media, social comparison, framing theory, media effects, women

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