New research published in Frontiers in Psychology provides insight into the complex relationships between gender ideologies and motivations for social media use among adolescents in the United States.
The results indicate that gender ideologies, which refer to groups of attitudes associated with traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity, play a key role in explaining social media behavior – but these ideologies do not explain not necessarily the gender differences observed. Surprisingly, the study also found that adolescent girls and boys did not differ in their degree of identification with the dominant ideology of masculinity.
Understanding the psychology behind teen behavior on social media is crucial to promoting healthy and safe online behaviors. Research has indicated that excessive use of social media can impact teen mental health and make them vulnerable to cyberbullying. Studies have also shown that adolescent girls and boys tend to use social media in different ways, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying these gender differences and their potential outcomes.
“I have long been interested in understanding how cultural constructions of gender influence adolescent identity development,” said study author Adriana Manago, associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of California. in Santa Cruz.
“In this study, I asked whether traditional gender ideologies (cultural beliefs and values for dominant masculinity and submissive femininity) influence adolescent identity development by shaping their motivations for social media use. “
For their study, Manago and her colleagues interviewed 309 cisgender high school students enrolled in a public high school in Northern California. Participants were asked to identify the top three social media platforms they used the most. The most commonly named social media platforms were Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Girls were more likely than boys to name TikTok and Tumblr, while boys were more likely than girls to name Discord, Reddit, MMORPGs and Steam.
Next, participants were asked to reflect on why they use social media and to rate on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (completely) how well different purposes of using media social were relevant to them.
To assess gender ideology, participants completed the Adolescent Masculinity in Relationships Ideology Scale and the Adolescent Feminine Ideology Scale. Those raised in dominant male ideology agreed with statements such as “It’s important to act like I’m sexually active and knowledgeable, even if I’m not” and “If I told people my concerns, I would seem weak”, while those who submissive female ideology agree with statements such as “I often change the way I do things to please someone.”
“My students and I collected survey data from a sample of Californian high school teenage girls and tested whether their level of identification with the ideology of femininity was associated with their level of social media use at purposes associated with girls (social media for appearance validation and emotional connection) and whether their level of endorsement of the ideology of masculinity was associated with their level of use of social media for purposes associated with girls boys (social media for competitive activity links, bullying and social compensation),” Manago explained.
Both boys and girls ranked linking competitive activities as the most favored use of social media. Competitive activity links include using social media to do fun activities and challenge close friends to see who is the best at something.
Girls said they used social media more often than boys to emotional connection (“I use social media to share personal thoughts with close friends”), appearance validation (“I use social media to see how my appearance compares to others”), and social compensation (“I use social media to find new friends”). Boys, on the other hand, said they used social media more than girls to bond competitive activities. But girls and boys did not differ in their reports of using social media for bullying.
Teenage girls were more likely than boys to identify with the submissive female ideology. But they were just as likely as boys to identify with the dominant male ideology.
Identification with femininity ideology was related to emotional connection, but this did not fully explain why there were differences in emotional connection between the sexes. On the contrary, boys and girls who identified with the femininity ideology tended to use social media more to create emotional connections. Similarly, identification with the ideology of masculinity was related to the competitive activity link, but this did not explain why the competitive activity link was more common among boys.
When it comes to using social media to post attractive photos or compare yourself to others, the influence of the ideology of masculinity is stronger than that of the ideology of femininity.
“The main finding was that gender continues to be associated with variations in teenage motivations for using social media, but the influence of gender ideologies is complex because teenage boys and girls in the United States now seem identify with ideologies of masculinity to similar degrees,” Manago told PsyPost. “We found that ideology of masculinity was associated with social media for linking competitive activity and validating appearance in boys and girls The ideology of femininity was also associated with social media to create emotional and activity connections in boys and girls.
Many of the results supported the researchers’ initial hypotheses. But several results were unexpected, especially regarding gender ideology.
“I was surprised that girls and boys did not differ on ideology of masculinity and that girls’ identification with ideology of masculinity was strongly predictive of their use of social media for life validation. appearance,” Manago explained. “We tend to assume that girls’ self-objectification on social media is about embracing traditional femininity and our study suggests we may be underestimating the extent to which their beliefs and values of power in relationships ( ideology of masculinity) lead to this type of gratification sought through the use of social media.
The results might even suggest that current measures of gender ideology are outdated. The measures were developed before the rise of social media.
“The biggest caveats are that the scales we used to measure adolescent identification with ideologies of masculinity and femininity were not very stable with this sample,” Manago told PsyPost. “This suggests that the conceptions of femininity and masculinity that were used to develop these measurement scales in the early 2000s may be less relevant to Gen Z adolescents. For example, submissive femininity was measured in terms of self-silence, which may be less likely to be associated with femininity in the digital age of self-expression.
“More research needs to be conducted to understand how Gen Z adolescents make sense of masculinity and femininity at a time when traditional gender beliefs and values are being disrupted by the growing visibility of LGBTQ+ and the rise non-binary gender identifications,” added the researcher.
The study, “The Contributions of Gender Identification and Gender Ideologies to Social Media Use in Adolescence,” was authored by Adriana M. Manago, Abigail S. Walsh, and Logan L. Barsigian.