Earlier this month, Instagram began testing a new feature that allows users to hide “likes” on their own posts and on the posts of others. While this latest iteration of like management is optional, some psychologists contend that opting out may carry mental health benefits, namely that it could protect users from potential stressful and demoralizing effects.
This isn’t the first time Instagram has trialed a feature of this nature, either. “Last year we started hiding like counts for a small group of people to see if it lessens some pressure when posting to Instagram. Some found this helpful and some still wanted to see like counts, in particular to track what’s popular,” head of Instagram Adam Mosseri tweeted on April 14. “We’re testing a new option that lets you decide the experience that’s best for you—whether that’s choosing not to see like counts on anyone else’s posts, turning them off for your own posts, or keeping the original experience.”
Erin A. Vogel, PhD, a social psychologist who studies social media and its effects on well-being, predicts users may find it difficult to quit likes—even if they don’t, well, like them. “Many people are aware of the negative effects they experience from social comparison on social media, yet it’s really hard to stop using social media,” she says. “Social reward, in the form of likes and comments, is very reinforcing. We feel good when we get social reward, so we keep posting.”
Desiring feedback is not a negative thing in and of itself, says media psychologist Pamela Rutledge, PhD. “One of the ways that people feel like they’re connected to others is because they get likes and feedback and all that,” she says. Some people, however, become preoccupied with likes, and that’s when things can become less healthy.
But Dr. Rutledge thinks it’s this demographic—those overly concerned with likes to the detriment of their mental health—that may have the most trouble disabling likes because they’ve become dependent on feedback from others to feel good about themselves. “[In this case], you are not going to turn the likes off, because that is one of the ways that you value yourself,” she says. In other words, the psychology of disabling likes is complex, and some users may struggle to take advantage of the new feature even if it stands to benefit them.
If you’re on the fence about hiding likes on Instagram posts, or on the posts of others, Drs. Vogel, Rutledge, and other experts offer arguments for doing so below.
5 reasons to consider hiding likes on Instagram, according to psychologists
1. Doing so lessens the opportunity for unhealthy social comparison
According to Dr. Rutledge, there’s nothing actually wrong with comparing yourself to others, whether online or not. “Social comparison is a normal, instinctive behavior,” she says. “We need to know how to navigate our social world, we need to know where we fit in our community.”
Still, social comparison via social media can be overwhelming because, for starters, the pool of people to whom you might compare yourself is much bigger than it would be if you were only comparing yourself to, say, your neighbors. And unlike in real life, social media typically only presents you with the highlight reel of another person’s life, which can look a lot better than your own messy lived reality. Furthermore, some people are just plain-old better at social media than others, which means they may be better at garnering likes than you are. All of this added up can easily net out to feelings of inferiority.
“This [new feature] can be supportive for people who are working on internal validation and self-love.” —Meghan Watson, registered psychotherapist
So if you find yourself looking at the likes you get on your posts, comparing them to the likes others get on their posts, and feeling bad about yourself as a result, Dr. Vogel says you may benefit from hiding likes on Instagram. Registered psychotherapist Meghan Watson agrees, noting “this [new feature] can be supportive for people who are working on internal validation and self-love.”
2. It can help break cycles of social addiction
It’s no secret that social media is addictive, and likes are one of the mechanisms by which it has us hooked. “Consciously and unconsciously, most people feed off of the energy created by a high level of likes; this can feel fabulous when the number of likes is high, yet a low number of likes can lead to feelings of sadness and negativity,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. “The resulting highs and lows can lead to an addictive pattern of making posts geared toward getting likes in order to feel the invigorating rush.”
This, she says, can rob you of the joy of posting whatever it is you’d actually like to post, and the like system more generally can leave you constantly chasing a high. Disabling it, then, may free you from its addictive hold—at least to some degree.
3. It can enable a sense of control
Human beings like to feel in control, and it can be maddening to watch a post flounder on Instagram, scarcely liked. Hiding likes on Instagram, says positive media psychologist Sophie H. Janicke-Bowles, PhD, can help to remedy this feeling of helplessness. “Making it optional to opt in or out of the like button is great for Instagram users because it can satisfy a need for agency and control, which has been shown in research to positively contribute to well-being,” she says.
4. It can lead to more authentic and joyful posting
Hiding likes on Instagram may help you to focus more on creating content that feels good to you, rather than what might be validated by an audience with likes. “Focusing on likes can skew the focus to what other people think about your posts,” says Watson.
“When the pressure to perform is taken out of the equation, we tend to post what makes us feel good.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist
Without that pressure, folks are more likely to post what they genuinely want to, and that can bring more authentic posting and also come greater joy, adds Dr. Manly. “When likes are hidden, the focus turns away from getting the ultimate number of likes and into the realm of appreciating and enjoying content,” she says. “When we engage in something for pure enjoyment—rather than to get others’ approval or appreciation—we feel much more at ease. When the pressure to perform is taken out of the equation, we tend to post what makes us feel good.”
5. But it’s not a mental health cure-all, and it may not be for everyone
As Dr. Rutledge mentioned, removing likes from your posts may not make you feel better than you did when likes were in place. If you struggle with self-worth on social media, the problem likely goes beyond the digital realm. “You can’t teach someone to have good self-esteem by suppressing something that might upset them,” she says.
The key, she adds, is to instead figure out if using social media is serving you or not—regardless of the like button. “It’s good to have tools, and it’s good to have things in your control, and so I have no problem with them making the hiding of likes an option—I think the more options that you have, the better,” Dr. Rutledge says. “I think the real problem, however, is media literacy, critical thinking, and the ability to say, ‘Hey this isn’t working for me.'”
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