June 1, 2013 -- When you think of things to do to improve your self-esteem or self-image, you probably don't think about heading to Facebook. It might actually be the last place you think of, given that a percentage of people leave Facebook because of the negativity on the social network.
But a study out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that looking at your Facebook profile for five minutes can provide a significant boost in self-esteem.
"Most have a very large audience of friends and they selectively present the best version of self, but they do so in an accurate manner," Catalina Toma, an assistant professor of communication arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison who led the study, told ABC News. "We had people look at their own profiles for five minutes and found that they experienced a boost in self-esteem in a deep, unconscious level."
Toma had a group of participants look at their Facebook profiles and then take the Implicit Association Test, which measures how fast people associate positive or negative adjectives with words such as me, my, I and myself. After studying their profile and photos, the group was more inclined to associate themselves with positive and flattering words.
Toma wanted to see if that "significant boost" in self-esteem had any impact on behavior and motivation. Participants were then asked to do a subtraction test, in which they had to subtract the number seven from a series of large numbers. Compared to the control group of those who didn't look at their Facebook profiles, the group with the Facebook-boosted self-esteem didn't try as hard to perform well on the test.
"Facebook gives you a real good image of yourself, but you then don't have to look for that in other ways," she said. "Your motivation to perform well might be reduced because you already feel really good."
Toma found something similar in a study she worked on at Cornell University, from which she earned a PhD. In that study, she and co-author, Jeff Hancock, asked a group of undergraduates to give a speech. Afterwards a group of participants were allowed to look at their own Facebook profile. When they were given negative feedback on their speech, those participants who looked at their profile were less defensive.
Of course, Facebook isn't always going to have a positive impact on self-worth and image. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found that 9 percent of the Facebook users who took a break from the social network did so because there was too much negativity on the site and it made them feel bad.
Another study, such as one from 2012 conducted by Western Illinois University, found that the exhibitionism on Facebook can negatively impact self-esteem.
A report out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden similarly found that users who spend more time on Facebook have lower self-esteem.
Toma was clear that not all parts of Facebook can have a positive effect on self-esteem.
"People don't always understand that they, themselves put their best face forward on Facebook and so does everyone else," she said. "It seems like everyone could be having more fun than you are or a more meaningful life. Facebook is a really multifaceted and complex psychological platform."