Are humorous or distractor images more effective than self-compassion messages for combatting the negative body image consequences of social media? An experimental test of possible micro-intervention stimuli

Bryony Davies, Mark Turner, Julie Udell

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Appearance-focused images on social media are thought to be particularly detrimental for body image. However, social media sites can also be used to encourage positive health behaviours. Three linked experiments with 620 Instagram users explored the protective capabilities of appearance-related self-compassion and appearance-related humorous messages for women’s body image during Instagram use. Using simulated Instagram browsing tasks, participants were exposed to a set of fitspiration Instagram posts mixed with either self-compassion or humorous body image messages, or appearance-neutral images. Results indicated that appearance-related self-compassion and humorous messages were not more effective at protecting against negative appearance and life satisfaction outcomes than appearance-neutral images, and did not influence appearance comparison (Experiment 1), even when the personal relevance to participants’ health was reinforced through experimental manipulation (Experiment 2). Rather, the presence of any image which did not contain pictures of women, regardless of image content, led to improved body image outcomes compared to exposure to fitspiration images alone (Experiment 3). Interpersonal factors such as the similarity of a female target’s appearance also influenced the nature of comparisons made. The study highlights the importance of diluting appearance-focused content with other social media images in ongoing research practice and for user well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-371
Number of pages16
JournalBody Image
Early online date18 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Instagram
  • self-compassion
  • humour
  • micro-intervention
  • appearance comparison
  • body dissatisfaction

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