7 Academic Studies of Instagram


Every new technology has the potential to influence the way we communicate with others and how we see ourselves. Once our habits in the new technology get established, they are ripe for study. The social photo-sharing app Instagram is still relatively new, but research into its effect on our lives is already underway. Here are seven academic studies of Instagram, by their titles.


How is social media changing how we mourn? This study, published in Information, Communication & Society, analyzed photos shared on Instagram that were accompanied by the hashtag #funeral. Some were selfies or group photos taken at funerals. There were also pictures of objects at ceremonies like vehicles, programs, or food, but rarely of open caskets or headstones. According to the researchers, the use of this kind of social media at funerals indicates a transformation of rituals of mourning, into a less formal and more personal form. While there have long been forms of memorializing the dead on different internet platforms, Instagram memorializing is distinguished by being very “in the moment,” and the “central aim of sharing funeral images is to signify and communicate presence … mourners are sharing photographs to create a sense of proximity, connection and co-presence with friends, family and acquaintances that may not be present.”


What happens when photojournalists turn to Instagram-style images? A set of photos published on the front page of The New York Times in 2010 sparked a debate on this issue. They were taken on an iPhone using the Hipstamatic filter app by a photojournalist embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This paper, published in New Media & Society, examines the “technical, aesthetic, and ethical dilemmas that mobile app photography provokes about digital photojournalism.” According to author Meryl Alper, the highly-stylized look of the photos may have a truth-distorting effect, one that makes war look glamorous and hip. Another problem raised by the app photos is how the style of photos the media takes imitates those that soldiers themselves take, blurring the lines between the “objective” photojournalist and the “subjective” soldier.


Where athletes' images were once at the mercy of how the media portrayed them, they now have the ability, through social media, to do their own self-presentation in the development of their public image. This study of the Instagram feeds of 27 professional athletes from a range of sports, which was published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, found that despite conventional wisdom suggesting that men are traditionally framed with closer headshots for power and women from more of a distance, in their self-presentation, both male and female athletes tended to post photos that showed their full bodies. The selfie, which usually does not show the whole body, was seldom used. The captions and hashtags that accompanied the photos were also analyzed, and categories of post types emerged that covered themes like humanitarian, family driven, dedicated athlete, and endorser.


Companies are still figuring out the best approach to public relations on social media, especially in so-called “crisis” situations. This study, published in Corporate Communications: An International Journal, looked at negative hashtags about fast food companies on Instagram to analyze how they were used by the public, and how they were responded to. The researches searched for strings like companynameFAIL, companynameSUCKS, and companynamePROBLEMS. Most posts were from customers complaining about service issues. Very few had to do with the food. (Many Starbucks complaints were about names being spelled wrong on cups.) One quarter of the negative posts were from employees complaining about their work environment. The companies in question had very little engagement with or monitoring of such posts, and are advised to “put Instagram next to Facebook and Twitter at the center of their social media strategy and crisis communication plan.”


This study, published in MultiMedia Modeling, aimed to see whether the way Instagram users used filters to change the look of their photos was related to their personality traits. They had participants agree to allow access to their Instagram accounts and asked them to fill out a personality questionnaire. They analyzed the personality features against image features and found various correlations. For example, the personality trait of openness to experience was correlated with more saturated, vivid colors, and also less inclusion of faces and people in the photos; the trait of neuroticism correlated with higher brightness levels; extroversion tended to correlate with more blue and green colors, rather than red and orange.


This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, used a survey of college students to examine the reasons why they use Instagram, and how it relates to narcissism and contextual age (a sort of measure of where you are in life with respect to life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and social activity). The researchers found that Instagram is used mainly for four things: “Surveillance/Knowledge about others,” “Documentation,” “Coolness,” and “Creativity.” Surveillance was the reason most correlated with the amount of time these students used Instagram. Coolness and Creativity were the reasons most correlated with amount of time editing photos. The amount of time spent editing photos was also significantly related to narcissism.


This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, aimed to see whether image-based as opposed to text-based social media was more likely to relieve loneliness because of the greater intimacy and feeling of “realness” for pictures. Using surveys, the researchers found that image-based social media did seem to be associated with a decrease in self-reported loneliness. Loneliness was highest among those who used no image-based social media. The use of text-based social media alone did nothing to reduce loneliness: “If anything,” the researchers wrote, “increased use of text-based media may exacerbate loneliness.”

Your Netflix Subscription Just Shot Up in Price


For the past several years, Netflix has been rolling out a steady stream of expensive original content, from Dave Chappelle comedy specials (for which he was reportedly paid $20 million apiece) to $90 million feature film spectacles like 2018’s Bright.

It appears the bill now needs settling up. Variety reports that the service has announced a price hike for its 58.4 million subscribers.

Effective immediately, Netflix subscribers on the Standard plan with two HD streams will pay $12.99 monthly, up from $10.99; the Premium plan, which includes four HD streams and 4K options, is jumping from $13.99 to $15.99 per month; while the Basic plan, with one standard-definition stream, will increase by a dollar, from $7.99 to $8.99.

In a press release explaining the fee increase, Netflix stated that the price hike is partly a product of the company’s desire to “continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience.”

Naturally, whether that represents value depends on whether users are enjoying their programming. Financially, the company spends more on content than comparable services like HBO and Hulu—by some estimates, as much as $13 billion in 2018.

Subscribers have a new season of The Punisher, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary on the doomed Fyre music festival; and a new Ted Bundy documentary series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, to look forward to in the coming weeks.

[h/t Variety]

Yes, You Have Too Many Tabs Open on Your Computer—and Your Brain is Probably to Blame


If you’re anything like me, you likely have dozens of tabs open at this very moment. Whether it’s news stories you mean to read later, podcast episodes you want to listen to when you have a chance, or just various email and social media accounts, your browser is probably cluttered with numerous, often unnecessary tabs—and your computer is working slower as a result. So, why do we leave so many tabs open? Metro recently provided some answers to this question, which we spotted via Travel + Leisure.

The key phrase to know, according to the Metro's Ellen Scott, is “task switching,” which is what our brains are really doing when we think we're multitasking. Research has found that humans can't really efficiently multitask at all—instead, our brains hop rapidly from one task to another, losing concentration every time we shift our attention. Opening a million tabs, it turns out, is often just a digital form of task switching.

It isn't just about feeling like we're getting things done. Keeping various tabs open also works as a protection against boredom, according to Metro. Having dozens of tabs open allows us to pretend we’re always doing something, or at least that we always have something available to do.

A screenshot of many tabs in a browser screen
This is too many tabs.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

It may also be driven by a fear of missing information—a kind of “Internet FOMO,” as Travel + Leisure explains it. We fear that we might miss an important update if we close out of our social media feed or email account or that news article, so we just never close anything.

But this can lead to information overload. Even when you think you're only focused on whatever you're doing in a single window, seeing all those open tabs in the corner of your eye takes up mental energy, distracting you from the task at hand. Based on studies of multitasking, this tendency to keep an overwhelming number of tabs open may actually be altering your brain. Some studies have found that "heavy media multitaskers"—like tab power users—may perform worse on various cognitive tests than people who don't try to consume media at such a frenzied pace.

More simply, it just might not be worth the bandwidth. Just like your brain, your browser and your computer can only handle so much information at a time. To optimize your browser's performance, Lifehacker suggests keeping only nine tabs open—at most—at one time. With nine or fewer tabs, you're able to see everything that's open at a glance, and you can use keyboard shortcuts to navigate between them. (On a Mac, you can press Command + No. 1 through No. 9 to switch between tabs; on a PC, it's Control + the number.)

Nine open tabs on a desktop browser
With nine or fewer tabs open, you can actually tell what each page is.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

That said, there are, obviously, situations in which one might need many tabs open at one time. Daria Kuss, a senior lecturer specializing in cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, tells Metro that “there are two opposing reasons we keep loads of tabs open: to be efficient and ‘create a multi-source and multi-topic context for the task at hand.’” Right now, for example, I have six tabs open to refer to for the purposes of writing this story. Sometimes, there's just no avoiding tabs.

In the end, it's all about accepting our (and our computers') limitations. When in doubt, there’s no shame in shutting down those windows. If you really want to get back to them, they're all saved in your browser history. If you're a relentless tab-opener, there are also browser extensions like OneTab, which collapses all of your open tabs into a single window of links for you to return to later.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]