The Psychology of Social Media

The Psychology of Social Media

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, shaping the way we connect, communicate, and consume information. According to Statistica, in 2022 over 302 million people in the United States used social media—a penetration rate of over 91%.1 What is the allure of social media? Why do so many people use it, particularly certain age groups, genders, and races? This article delves into the multifaceted reasons why individuals are drawn to social media and the diverse needs it fulfills in our interconnected world.

psychology of social media

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Why Do We Use Social Media?

People use social media for a number of reasons, from deciding what to purchase to simply filling their spare time. However, there are some fundamental reasons that people are drawn to social media—reasons that are related to the fundamental things that make us human.

Social Connection

Humans are inherently social creatures, wired to seek connection, companionship, and a sense of belonging. This fundamental aspect of human nature has deep evolutionary roots, dating back to our early ancestors who thrived in groups for survival. The intricate web of social interactions woven into the fabric of human existence reflects not only our biological predisposition but also the foundation of our emotional and psychological well-being.

The significance of social connection is not limited to physical proximity. In the modern era, technology has transformed the landscape of social interactions, allowing individuals to connect across vast distances. From face-to-face conversations to virtual interactions on social media platforms, the essence of seeking connection remains a constant in human behavior. Social media has amplified the reach and complexity of social networks, providing new avenues for expression, support, and affirmation.

Combat Isolation

A corollary to the significance of social connectedness is the danger of social isolation. Isolation has been linked to health risks such as depression, dementia, heart disease, and stroke. Social media serves as a virtual space where individuals seek to bridge the gaps of physical separation. The platforms provide a medium to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances, transcending geographical boundaries. In a world marked by fast-paced lifestyles and constant mobility, the ability to maintain relationships, share experiences, and celebrate milestones online becomes a crucial element in addressing the inherent human need for social connection.

Foster Validation and Self-Esteem

As social beings, humans seek to fulfill basic emotional needs, including social acceptance, self-esteem, and validation. Social media allows people to connect with other users (both near and far) and spark relationships based on mutually shared interests, fostering a sense of acceptance by others. Positive interactions could contribute to a sense of validation and affirmation, reinforcing a feeling of being seen and valued within the digital community. In addition, gaining followers could bolster a person’s feelings of social acceptance, and, eventually, their self-esteem—even if these interactions exist only in the virtual world.

Feel a Sense of Belonging

The need to belong is fundamental to human beings and is an important tool for helping people manage stress. Social media platforms enable users to share their daily experiences, creating a sense of shared narrative. Whether it’s documenting personal milestones, vacations, or daily routines, this shared storytelling builds a digital tapestry that contributes to a collective sense of belonging. There are also nearly endless virtual communities that users can belong to, providing opportunities for people to feel they are a part of something.

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Which Social Media Platforms Are Most Popular?

This question is actually more complex than it might seem, because there are differences in popularity of platforms based on both gender and age. Across both demographics, however, YouTube is the most popular, with about 246 million users. LinkedIn is next, with about 200 million users, followed by Facebook at 175 million users.2*


In general, women used social media more than men: 53.9% women vs 46.1% men.1 The largest percentages of female users were for Pinterest (84.6%), Instagram (56%), and TikTok (55.6%). There were only two platforms for which there were more male users than female: LinkedIn and X.** The most favorite platform for men was X, and the least favorite was Pinterest (12.9%).2


One of the favorite platforms for younger generations is TikTok. 67% of people 18–19 and 56% of those 20–29 reported using TikTok in 2022. The numbers consistently trend downward with the increase in age.3

Overall, however, it is somewhat older users who use social media the most. In 2023, 68.5% of people 27-42 used social media, compared to 56.4% of people ages 11–26. For ages 43–58, the percentage is 51.8%, and for people 59–77, 36.9%. By 2027, the Gen Zs are projected to almost catch up with Millennials and surpass Gen Xs.4

Interestingly, this data is sorted by generations—Gen Zs, Millennials, Gen Xs, and Baby Boomers. The categorization of ages into generations could serve as a way to group individuals based on the historical and cultural context in which they were born.

As with the overall trends, the largest numbers of Facebook and Instagram users were ages 25–34. For Facebook, the next largest group was those 35–44, while for Instagram it was for those 18–24.5,6


Social media has become instrumental to the way modern-day humans communicate with each other and share important information—and its popularity shows no signs of stopping. The field of psychology may begin to ramp up studies on the way social media platforms affect people, their emotions, and interpersonal relationships. Those with psychology careers—like organizational psychologists—may deepen their research on how social media affects consumer behavior and public relations. Communication and psychology are inextricably linked—and if social media remains a primary mode of human connection, psychology leaders and students will continue to explore its impact on the psyches of millions of people around the world.

*All data is from 2023, unless otherwise specified
**These stats are from Twitter, which determines gender using signal analysis; other findings might offer a different picture

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