School of Health in Social Science

Social media, body image and mental health

In this series of projects, we are using experimental methods to study the impact of social media content on body image and mental health, particularly in young adults.


Social media is now a large part of most people’s lives, and particularly for young people. While there are recognised benefits to the connectivity that social media affords, and the increased opportunities for ‘finding one’s tribe’, research also indicates that spending a lot of time on social media may be detrimental for mental health, and that certain content in particular may be psychologically damaging. On the other hand, social media movements may attempt to promote wellbeing and body satisfaction, by showing more realistic and diverse portrayals of beauty and fitness. This work is looking at content relating to diet and fitness and its impact on people’s body image, self esteem and eating behaviour and attitudes. It also considers the individual differences in the viewer and imagery characteristics that influence the effect, and social comparison and cognitive distortions as mediators.


This research includes:

  • A comparison between fitspiration and thinspiration imagery on women’s body satisfaction and mood
  • A comparison of the impact of active versus inactive (poses) fitspiration imagery on women’s body satisfaction
  • The impact of fitspiration imagery on men’s body satisfaction, and how it relates to the viewer’s exercise levels
  • The impact of body positive images on women’s body appreciation and mood
  • The impact of fully clothed and partially clothed body positive tagged images on women’s body appreciation and mood
  • A content analysis of the characteristics of #cleaneating images on Instagram
  • The impact of dietary related images on mood and eating habits
  • The impact of body positive social media advertising on women’s self esteem and body appreciation
  • The impact of celebrity and peer appearance-based images on mood and body satisfaction in female adolescents

Project team

Dr Emily Newman

Lecturer and Clinical Psychology Research Director, University of Edinburgh

Dr Emily Newman

With support from Masters students in Clinical and Health Psychology