Online and off, people are happier when they feel truly seen and heard. It’s not rocket science. But what happens when your “true self” and the self you present online are two different people? According to a report published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, people with gaps between their Facebook selves and their real selves are more likely to feel isolated and stressed than people who keep it real.

Studies have found that having our true selves acknowledged and validated in person is linked to happiness and better self-esteem. To find out if the same was true for online interactions, researchers at the University of Tasmania recruited 164 Australian Facebook users, three-quarters of them female, and asked them to take a series of questionnaires. To make the participants feel comfortable being honest about their online lives, all of their information was anonymized. 

The survey session was bookended by two personality tests. In the first, users answered questions about their true selves—the aspects of their personality that are most important to their identity. At the end, the participants answered the same survey, but this time, the survey concerned their online personas. In between, they completed tests designed to measure depression, social isolation or connectedness, anxiety, stress, and overall wellbeing. 

The researchers found that people who presented the same face to the world online and off were better off than people who hid their true selves online. People who stayed true online were significantly more likely to feel socially connected and less likely to be stressed.

The study was relatively small and most of the participants were young, which means these results can’t be generalized to include everyone everywhere. Also important to note: This study found an association, not a causation. It could be that being yourself on Facebook makes you happier; it could also be that people who are happier feel more comfortable sharing their happy lives. Or, as the researchers write, "it is possible that by presenting oneself authentically on Facebook, less emotional labor is required, therefore resulting in less stress."  

Research on posts, profiles, and likes might seem frivolous until you think about the amount of time we spend on social media and the weight we place on our interactions there. And its importance is only growing, says Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking editor Brenda K. Wiederhold, who was not involved with the study. “The current world population is 7.4 billion, and as of the second quarter of 2016, active Facebook users totaled 1.7 billion,” Weiderhold said in a press statement. “As such, we must consider how Facebook may serve as a tool to positively impact our patients' lives."

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