Doing it for the ‘Gram: How Instagram affects values, and what it means for mental and ecological wellbeing
What would it mean to cultivate a culture of thriving people on a thriving planet? Research has shown that intrinsic values are a significant predictor of both environmentally responsible behaviour and mental wellbeing. However, in modern Western culture, extrinsic, self-promotional values continue to grow in prominence. In order to examine how a specific social context may be exacerbating extrinsic values, counter to mental and ecological wellbeing, this study looks at the social media platform Instagram. Through in-depth interviews of young adults in Aotearoa New Zealand, this study examines their experiences of Instagram in order to ascertain if and how it may promote extrinsic values. Results were analysed through Self Determination Theory, which states that environments which thwart basic human needs of relatedness, competence and autonomy will incentivise extrinsic values. While in some cases, Instagram increased access to relatedness, participants also experienced thwarted relatedness when interactions became motivated predominantly by posting them, and thus self-promoting, on the platform. Participants also consistently reported feeling incompetent when comparing themselves to others' images, which, particularly when adjacent to advertising, as in the case of Instagram, is likely to lead to materialistic tendencies. Participants were also aware of, and in some cases responded to, Instagram signals as to what type of content would gain more 'likes,' adjusting their behaviour in order to succeed in a 'marketplace' infrastructure, thereby limiting autonomy. In doing so, intrinsically motivated experiences were overtaken by an extrinsic desire to portray them to others. These examples indicate Instagram’s infrastructural incentives toward extrinsic values, which counter societal goals of mental and ecological wellbeing. Pervasive messaging within social contexts such as Instagram needs to shift away from promoting extrinsic values in order to respond adequately to the current ecological challenges and create conditions conducive to mental wellbeing.