Key Research

Social media usage in relation to their peers: Comparing male and female college students’ perceptions

Key Takeaways:

  • Findings suggest that students are more likely to perceive their peers as more frequently engaging in social media than they are
    • this effect is more pronounced in male students
  • The highest-rated motivations across the four of the most prominent platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter) were entertainment and convenience
  • If students do not have realistic understandings of their peers’ time on social media, these misunderstandings might encourage students to increase their social media use in order to stay even with their peers
  • Findings can help guide faculty, advisors, and administrators to better understand students’ perceptions and actual use of social media in both positive and negative ways
    • Administrators often use social media themselves for recruitment, highlighting success, and community updates on current events


LiveMore TakeLess’s Summary

At a Glance:

  • ​​98 percent of students had a Facebook profile
  • 77 percent of students claimed they spent less than two hours a day on Facebook
  • zero percent of students indicated that they did not have or did not use social media

Students believe that their own behaviors are below the norms or the behaviors of their college peers, extending the idea of pluralistic ignorance (erroneous cognitive beliefs shared by two or more individuals about the ideas, feelings, and actions of others) to social media use. Students do not have a realistic understanding of the time their peers spend on social media, which suggests that students do not have a collective agreement on social norms when it comes to social media use. These misunderstandings might lead to more social media usage as students try to “keep up with” their peers. While social media usage does have potentially positive impacts, as has been seen in many studies it can also lead to serious mental health effects.

The gap between perceptions of one’s own use and those of their peers was larger for male students regarding both posting on and the viewing of social media. This suggests that male students have less realistic ideas regarding social norms when compared to their female counterparts. It may be that for female students, social media use and content is a more common topic of conversation, so they have a better grasp of what others do as compared to their male counterparts.

Results from the study suggest that females use social media tools more often than their male counterparts. This finding supports programs or messaging to reallocate perceptions and reduce the amount of time females spend on social media. This need is based on past research demonstrating that more time spent on social media negatively affects academic aspirations. 

Future research should include studying Tiktok and other emerging technologies.

Topics: Mental Health , Social Media

Year: 2023

Participants: 5025 first-year students and 5487 seniors attending 33 institutions 

Data Collection: National Survey of Student Engagement 2018 administration.