Positivity norm of emotion expression on SNS and psychological well-being


People express both positive and negative emotions on social networking services (SNSs), however, with a preference towards positive emotions (Lin, Tov, & Qiu, 2014). This preference may be due to the positivity norm that has been formed in online social networking environments (Waterloo, Baumgartner, Peter, & Valkenburg, 2018). If there is a positivity norm on SNS, then how does it affect users’ emotion expression on SNS and psychological well-being? To explore the behavioral and psychological outcome of the positivity norm, this study examines how perceived positivity norm affects users’ emotion expression and psychological well-being. In addition, receiving positive responses has been pointed to mediate the relationship between self-disclosure and psychological well-being (e.g., Liu & Brown, 2014). Therefore, this study also tests whether the association between emotion expression on SNS and psychological well-being will be mediated by received positive responses.

The results of the structural equation modeling analysis of an online survey data of Instagram users (N = 503) confirmed that participants perceived positive emotions more appropriate than negative emotions. This positivity norm encouraged positive emotion expression but suppressed the negative emotion expression on Instagram. Moreover, positive emotion expression was positively associated with life satisfaction, and this association was also mediated by received positive feedback. On the other hand, the relationship between negative emotion expression and life satisfaction was only mediated by received positive feedback. These results suggested that people can generally obtain psychological benefits from expressing positive emotion on Instagram and increase subjective well-being through receiving positive feedbacks while expressing positive and negative emotions.

Then, can people increase their subjective well-being by simply expressing their positive emotions on SNS no matter how they feel in real life? Our further exploration revealed that the actual experience of positive and negative emotions moderated the relationships between emotional expression on SNS and psychological well-being. Multiple group analyses showed that only people who experienced more positive emotions or less negative emotions obtained psychological benefits from expressing positive emotions on Instagram. However, people who experienced fewer positive emotions or more negative emotions could not increase life satisfaction by expressing positive emotions on Instagram. On the other hand, only people who experienced negative emotions more often improved their subjective well-being by expressing negative emotions on Instagram. These results suggested that honest emotion expression on SNS benefits users’ psychological well-being, especially for those people who often experience negative emotions in real life. Besides, receiving positive feedback is crucial for obtaining benefits from the emotional expression on SNS.

Lin, H., Tov, W., & Qiu, L. (2014). Emotional disclosure on social networking sites: The role of network structure and psychological needs. Computers in Human Behavior41, 342-350.

Liu, D., & Brown, B. B. (2014). Self-disclosure on social networking sites, positive feedback, and social capital among Chinese college students. Computers in Human Behavior38, 213–219.

Waterloo, S. F., Baumgartner, S. E., Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2018). Norms of online expressions of emotion: Comparing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. new media & society20, 1813-1831.