[Proposal] Is Social Media Prolonging Identity Commitment? The Effects of Social Media Use on Adolescent Identity Formation

Theoretical Rationale

Over the past few decades, there has been a massive shift in the way people engage with technology. What was once a luxury designated only for a few has now become embedded in the routines of billions across the world. Recent years have witnessed an increase in internet usage throughout the United States with nine out of ten American adults having an online presence (Pew Research Center, 2021). As the rates of utilizing the Internet have increased, so has the use of social media. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the US public reports using social media, which is a rapid rise from only 5% in 2005 (Pew Research Center, 2021). Not only are adults interacting with the Internet on a daily basis, but the target audience for many social media interfaces has decreased in age. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have access to the Internet and 80% of these teens report using social media (Lenhart et al., 2011). Internet and social media usage have been facilitated for this age group through access to a smartphone (95% of adolescents) and having internet accessibility on a mobile device (91% of teens) (Anderson & Jiang, 2018; Lenhart, 2015). Due to the integral role technology has in the lives of adolescents, it is imperative to understand the impact on its users. Specifically, for adolescents, social media use is likely to alter how they see themselves, which is particularly salient as adolescence is the period when identity formation occurs (Erikson, 1968). Yet, surprisingly, there is relatively little research on the role of social media use on identity formation and distress, and none to my knowledge on the process mechanisms involved. Thus, my proposed study will examine 1) the role of passive social media usage on uncommitted identity states and identity distress in late adolescents; 2) whether high self-esteem buffers this association; and, 3) whether social comparison motives buffer or exacerbate the link between social media use and self-esteem.


Study 1

Participants will be recruited from Prolific. A power analysis using G*Power determined a sample of 681 participants would be sufficient to meet an effect size of 0.02, alpha of 0.05, and a power of 0.80 for a linear regression with six predictors. Participants will complete an online survey regarding their social media habits, identity development and distress, social comparison motivations, and current self-esteem. To be eligible for the study, participants will have to be 18 to 25 years old, speak and read English, live in the United States, and use at least one social media site investigated in the study (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Tumblr, and Twitter). Before beginning the survey, participants will read and agree to the informed consent. Participants recruited through Prolific will be provided with monetary compensation.

Study 2


Participants of this study will be ASU psychology students seeking credits for their course and/or other students interested in participating for monetary compensation. Students that take the first survey will be asked if they would like to participate in a follow-up study. These students will then be contacted and invited to participate in the experimental study. The same eligibility requirements from the first study must be met in order to participate in this study. According to a power analysis using G*Power, 432 participants will be suitable to meet an effect size of 0.15, alpha of 0.05, and power of 0.80 with three groups for a one-way ANOVA.


At the beginning of the semester, students that are interested in joining will read the informed consent and those that agree will partake in the survey. In this study, students will complete a survey similar to the one used in Study 1; however, at the end of the survey they will be asked if they would like to participate in a follow-up study. Students that indicate interest will be contacted to participate in the second study. In this study, participants will either be placed into a passive use group, active use group, or control group. Those in the passive group will be asked to refrain from posting on their social media accounts for a week. They may still message friends privately but will not share photos, post comments, or update statuses. Participants in the active group will do the opposite and will be asked to post on a social media profile at least once a day. Posts may take the form of photos or status updates. As a manipulation check, participants will be asked to accept me as a friend/follower on their social media sites. I will observe their content and ensure they maintain their corresponding post updates, or lack thereof. Participants will also be asked if they kept up with their assigned posting schedule (once a day for active users, not at all for passive users) in the follow-up survey. The control group will not alter their social media habits. After a week, the participants will return to the lab and complete a follow-up survey similar to the one they took at the beginning of the semester. Students that participate in the study will be awarded course credit and/or monetary compensation.

Study Costs

For the first study, I assume participants will need 30 minutes to complete the survey. The 681 users that participate in the study will be compensated with $4.75. With the added service fees and taxes, the total cost will amount to $4313.

For the second study, I hope to compensate participants with either course credit or money. If all participants seek out monetary compensation, then that would be $15 for 432 participants, resulting in $6480. In total, I am asking for the full $10,000 grant.

Preregistration link: https://aspredicted.org/g7ie3.pdf

Open Science Commitment

All findings, study materials, analysis code, and data will be made openly available at the OSF once the study is completed and peer-reviewed.


Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, May 31). Teens, social media and technology 2018. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018 | Pew Research Center

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis. W. W. Norton.

Internet/Broadband fact sheet. (2021, April 7). Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/

Lenhart, A. (2015, April 9). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015 | Pew Research Center

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Smith, A., Purcell, K., & Zickuhr, K. (2011, November 9). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites | Pew Research Center