Every new technology has the potential to influence the way we communicate with others and how we see ourselves. Once our habits in the new technology get established, they are ripe for study. The social photo-sharing app Instagram is still relatively new, but research into its effect on our lives is already underway. Here are seven academic studies of Instagram, by their titles.
1. "#FUNERAL AND INSTAGRAM: DEATH, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND PLATFORM VERNACULAR"
How is social media changing how we mourn? This study, published in Information, Communication & Society, analyzed photos shared on Instagram that were accompanied by the hashtag #funeral. Some were selfies or group photos taken at funerals. There were also pictures of objects at ceremonies like vehicles, programs, or food, but rarely of open caskets or headstones. According to the researchers, the use of this kind of social media at funerals indicates a transformation of rituals of mourning, into a less formal and more personal form. While there have long been forms of memorializing the dead on different internet platforms, Instagram memorializing is distinguished by being very “in the moment,” and the “central aim of sharing funeral images is to signify and communicate presence … mourners are sharing photographs to create a sense of proximity, connection and co-presence with friends, family and acquaintances that may not be present.”
2. "WAR ON INSTAGRAM: FRAMING CONFLICT PHOTOJOURNALISM WITH MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY APPS"
What happens when photojournalists turn to Instagram-style images? A set of photos published on the front page of The New York Times in 2010 sparked a debate on this issue. They were taken on an iPhone using the Hipstamatic filter app by a photojournalist embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This paper, published in New Media & Society, examines the “technical, aesthetic, and ethical dilemmas that mobile app photography provokes about digital photojournalism.” According to author Meryl Alper, the highly-stylized look of the photos may have a truth-distorting effect, one that makes war look glamorous and hip. Another problem raised by the app photos is how the style of photos the media takes imitates those that soldiers themselves take, blurring the lines between the “objective” photojournalist and the “subjective” soldier.
3. "I'M GOING TO INSTAGRAM IT! AN ANALYSIS OF ATHLETE SELF-PRESENTATION ON INSTAGRAM"
Where athletes' images were once at the mercy of how the media portrayed them, they now have the ability, through social media, to do their own self-presentation in the development of their public image. This study of the Instagram feeds of 27 professional athletes from a range of sports, which was published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, found that despite conventional wisdom suggesting that men are traditionally framed with closer headshots for power and women from more of a distance, in their self-presentation, both male and female athletes tended to post photos that showed their full bodies. The selfie, which usually does not show the whole body, was seldom used. The captions and hashtags that accompanied the photos were also analyzed, and categories of post types emerged that covered themes like humanitarian, family driven, dedicated athlete, and endorser.
4. "FROM #MCDONALDSFAIL TO #DOMINOSSUCKS: AN ANALYSIS OF INSTAGRAM IMAGES ABOUT THE 10 LARGEST FAST FOOD COMPANIES"
Companies are still figuring out the best approach to public relations on social media, especially in so-called “crisis” situations. This study, published in Corporate Communications: An International Journal, looked at negative hashtags about fast food companies on Instagram to analyze how they were used by the public, and how they were responded to. The researches searched for strings like companynameFAIL, companynameSUCKS, and companynamePROBLEMS. Most posts were from customers complaining about service issues. Very few had to do with the food. (Many Starbucks complaints were about names being spelled wrong on cups.) One quarter of the negative posts were from employees complaining about their work environment. The companies in question had very little engagement with or monitoring of such posts, and are advised to “put Instagram next to Facebook and Twitter at the center of their social media strategy and crisis communication plan.”
5. "USING INSTAGRAM PICTURE FEATURES TO PREDICT USERS' PERSONALITY"
This study, published in MultiMedia Modeling, aimed to see whether the way Instagram users used filters to change the look of their photos was related to their personality traits. They had participants agree to allow access to their Instagram accounts and asked them to fill out a personality questionnaire. They analyzed the personality features against image features and found various correlations. For example, the personality trait of openness to experience was correlated with more saturated, vivid colors, and also less inclusion of faces and people in the photos; the trait of neuroticism correlated with higher brightness levels; extroversion tended to correlate with more blue and green colors, rather than red and orange.
6. "INSTAGRAM: MOTIVES FOR ITS USE AND RELATIONSHIP TO NARCISSISM AND CONTEXTUAL AGE"
This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, used a survey of college students to examine the reasons why they use Instagram, and how it relates to narcissism and contextual age (a sort of measure of where you are in life with respect to life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and social activity). The researchers found that Instagram is used mainly for four things: “Surveillance/Knowledge about others,” “Documentation,” “Coolness,” and “Creativity.” Surveillance was the reason most correlated with the amount of time these students used Instagram. Coolness and Creativity were the reasons most correlated with amount of time editing photos. The amount of time spent editing photos was also significantly related to narcissism.
7. "SOCIAL MEDIA AND LONELINESS: WHY AN INSTAGRAM PICTURE MAY BE WORTH MORE THAN A THOUSAND TWITTER WORDS"
This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, aimed to see whether image-based as opposed to text-based social media was more likely to relieve loneliness because of the greater intimacy and feeling of “realness” for pictures. Using surveys, the researchers found that image-based social media did seem to be associated with a decrease in self-reported loneliness. Loneliness was highest among those who used no image-based social media. The use of text-based social media alone did nothing to reduce loneliness: “If anything,” the researchers wrote, “increased use of text-based media may exacerbate loneliness.”