The importance of social cues when browsing appearance-focused social media content: a think aloud protocol analysis using fitspiration images and Instagram feed browsing

Bryony Davies, Mark Turner, Julie Udell

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Previous research has demonstrated an impact of exposure to appearance-focused social media images on measures of female body image. However, the processes through which social media users consider and respond to appearance-focused content whilst browsing, or the degree to which this is reflective of their reactions to images typically encountered during every day browsing, are not fully understood. Think Aloud Protocol (TAP) was used to collect real-time, concurrent responses to Instagram content during two browsing tasks. Female participants browsed a set of 20 predefined fitspiration images, embedded within an online profile, and their own Instagram feed. Content analyses revealed that patterns of attentional focus in both tasks indicated the natural evaluation of images to extend far beyond simple comparison with the physical appearance of women. Participants engaged in more appearance appraisals when browsing fitspiration images compared to when browsing their own feed. A framework for understanding natural engagement with Instagram content is described which identifies the importance of extended social information when observing and judging appearance-focused images, via social media, that may be harmful to body image.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedia Psychology
Early online date3 Aug 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 3 Aug 2023

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