Social media is used by the vast majority of emerging adults. This age group is apt to experience anxiety related to their social media usage. One possible stressor for Instagram users is not knowing what exactly other people think about their posts. This uncertainty about if one’s online audience is judging them is similar to the spotlight effect – a phenomenon where individuals think more people notice them than they do. Our research set out to investigate if people believe that their posts on Instagram get more attention than the viewers give. To test this out, two groups of participants were used: content creators, who submitted a fake Instagram post, and content viewers, who scrolled through a simulated feed. The content creators had to estimate the number of people that would point out their perceived most noticeable feature. This was compared to the number of content viewers that did notice the predicted most noticeable feature. Questions about the amount of time spent on Instagram were asked to see if there was a correlation between usage and the spotlight effect. It was found that the content creators significantly overestimated the number of people that noticed their feature, thus supporting our hypothesis. A statistically significant correlation between hours spent on Instagram and the prevalence of the spotlight effect was not found. As with all research, there were limitations in our study; however, the findings will give future researchers several avenues to investigate the spotlight effect on social media further.

Note on the Author

Lauren Crowley graduated with a degree in Psychology and Childhood Studies and a Special Education Professional Practices minor. Her research project was completed in the fall of 2022 under the mentorship of Dr. Laura Ramsey (Psychology). Lauren plans on pursuing a career in school psychology.

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