How Does Using Instagram Impact Mood?

In October 2010, a new social media app was launched that allowed users to connect by sharing photos. Fast forward to 2021, with roughly one billion users, Instagram has taken over the internet. The influence of social media has become a large part of modern-day society, which in turn has impacted how we feel. In this blog post, we discuss how using Instagram affects mood.

In 2015, a study took place to test the association between Instagram usage and depressive symptoms. With the increase of smartphone usage, apps such as Instagram can become addictive as one can sign on at the touch of a button. Sometimes, people use social media as a way to cope with negative perceptions or truths about their reality. In turn, this reliance on social media may cause someone to become even more depressed, as they are not dealing with the source of their depression and actively avoiding confronting it.

How Do Social Networking Sites Like Instagram Impact Psychological Well Being?

Before observing the adverse effects of social media platforms, it is fair to acknowledge the good that comes from them. Facebook users have been seen to increase an individual’s social contact, capital, and self-esteem. Some studies report that those who make changes to their profile may have higher self-esteem after doing so. 


Yet, there are significant drawbacks that come with creating a social media profile. 


For one, users of Facebook have been observed to feel stress, lower self-esteem, lower wellbeing, and prone to give negative feedback on others’ profiles or their own through comparison. This comes from life situations, such as going through a breakup or seeing the content of someone who you admire. When this happens, people may alter their lives in a way to “keep up with the Jones.” 


Another observation from multiple studies has shown that following strangers creates more comparison, self-judgment, and jealousy. Those with Facebook “friends” whom they do not know in real life may see the glamorous highlights of the lives of others and begin to believe their life is unperfect. This may cause people to start to wonder whether their lifestyle, wealth, looks or any other materialistic ideal is “worthy”. Seeing photos of glamorous people may cause someone to feel more negative emotions towards themselves. Social media users need to be aware that social media is not real life, as real life does not have filters or picture-perfect moments all of the time. 

Understanding Instagram

The platform Instagram was created with the intention of letting users create a profile in which they can follow friends and strangers, share and upload photos, and like and comment on others posts. The use of #hashtags was also popularized through this social media giant. Now, in 2021, users can share videos, stories, share other users’ content, send messages back and forth, use filters, and even shop through the app. While the app has come a long way, so have the side effects. Unlike Facebook, which was to make a “connection” between individuals, the following has to be mutual, people can follow whoever they want on Instagram and do not need a follow back. This has caused the rise of social media “influencers” and celebrities who post glamorous content about their lives. Studies have shown that following these strangers triggers assumptions and raw feelings. Many feel the pressure of unrealistic expectations and societal standards while scrolling through their feelings. With judging others on the app, many then translate this jealousy to judge themselves.

The Study Details

During the study, 170 eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds were under observation through a method of an online questionnaire. They were asked about the following topics: demographics, frequency of Instagram use, amount of strangers followed on Instagram, the Center of Epidemiological Resources Scale for Depression, and the Social Comparison Rating Scale. Instagram usage was associated with depressive symptoms, meaning that the more social media app usage, the more signs of depression there were. The number of strangers that one followed on Instagram also had a marginal connection to depressive symptoms. The study showed that those who followed fewer strangers on the app had more positive associations and less depressive symptoms. This study was the first to examine the correlation between Instagram use and depressive symptoms, intending to understand why and how to moderate the negative side effects.


The Theories: 

The study partially supported the following two theories: 

  1. That the higher frequency of using Instagram increased the individual’s risk of having more depressive symptoms.  
  2. The second hypothesis also estimated the association between an individual following a greater number of strangers on Instagram and an increase of unfavorable social comparisons. 


The Results 

There was a balance between both of these hypotheses estimates. 


  1. First, the more frequent Instagram usage had a significant direct correlation with greater depressive symptoms. However, frequent Instagram usage did not have any correlation with social comparison.


  1. As for the number of strangers, someone followed on Instagram, the higher the number of strangers someone followed on the platform had an associated with social comparison and an indirect correlation to more depressive symptoms through social comparison. Those who followed fewer strangers were found to have more positive social comparisons on Instagram. 


The study found that for social comparison, the number of strangers one follows is an important factor. Likewise, it causes users to behave negatively and form unfavorable opinions against those they do not know, known as negative social comparison. Seeing photographs of friends and family on social media, who one follows who they know, triggered more positive feelings. 

Overall, the study found that Instagram creates a negative well-being for users who follow a large number of strangers, but a positive well-being for those who follow more people that they know in real life.


The ever-growing debate between the negative and positive sides of social media is not over just yet. New studies are finding different information constantly, helping us grow our understanding of social media’s impact on humans and society. What is one step you can take today to help yourself with social media and mental health? For starters, close down your large circle of followers and begin to limit yourself to only following people you know in your real life. Just by unfollowing half of the strangers on your Instagram, you could create a more positive social media experience and improve your mental health.


Lup, K., Trub, L., & Rosenthal, L. (2015). Instagram# instasad?: exploring associations among instagram use, depressive symptoms, negative social comparison, and strangers followed. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(5), 247-252. Chicago

Margaret Davis

Margaret Davis is a junior studying advertising at Temple University. She is thrilled to be joining the HappyNeuron Pro team as the Content Marketing Intern. With her previous experience working on PR and Social Media campaigns, Margaret hopes to bring a variety of skills to the team.

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