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Upward social comparison and Facebook users’ grandiosity: Examining the effect of envy on loneliness and subjective well-being

Myungsuh Lim (Department of Business Administration, Sangji University, Wonju, The Republic of Korea)
Yoon Yang (Department of Psychology, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, The Republic of Korea)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 25 July 2019

Issue publication date: 30 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to confirm the causal relationship, in an upward social comparison, of envy, loneliness and subjective well-being (SWB). Particularly, the authors address the mediating roles, each, of benign envy (BE) and malicious envy (ME) as different types of envy. In addition, the authors explore the grandiosity of users, in terms of narcissistic personalities, and whether it has discriminatory impacts on this causal relationship.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors re-enacted a situation that users confront on Facebook as a quasi-experiment to determine if there is an effectual relationship among variables in the path of upward comparison, envy, loneliness and SWB. First, the authors divided envy into BE and ME to examine its mediating role in the path of upward comparison and loneliness. Second, the authors examined the differentiated effects of both kinds of envy and loneliness on SWB. Finally, the authors determined if users’ grandiose, narcissistic behaviour has moderating effects on the path of each variable.

Findings

The results revealed that upward comparison has a positive effect on both kinds of envy; however, in the path of loneliness, only ME operated and played a mediating role. Furthermore, grandiosity had a partially significant moderating effect.

Research limitations/implications

This study has the following theoretical implications. The mediating effect of envy was identified in the path of upward comparison, loneliness and SWB. Research limitation is as follows: this study could not effectively reflect individual differences. It is necessary to include individual difference variables in later research, including characteristics of social comparison.

Practical implications

This study has the following practical implications. Social comparison on Facebook poses a more serious problem than it does offline; therefore, users need to protect their own SWB. If users can actively cope with the information of others and selectively choose their upward comparison targets, they can reduce their loneliness and improve their SWB as expected in the hypotheses.

Social implications

The “unfriending” events that occur on Facebook may be explained by the mediating phenomenon of ME. The research showed that the excessive narcissism of users on Facebook is an inconsistent information with real selves of users, thus triggering the ME, which causes avoidance from other Facebook users.

Originality/value

The authors have proven that social comparison and envy emotion are the causes of the loneliness, while the authors are on Facebook. Especially, the mediation role of BE and ME are discussed in a distinguished manner. Also, the authors confirmed that the influence of narcissism could further aggravate the problem of loneliness. Finally, the authors found that the variables of the study also affect the SWB of the Facebook user.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Sangji University Research Fund, 2018.

Citation

Lim, M. and Yang, Y. (2019), "Upward social comparison and Facebook users’ grandiosity: Examining the effect of envy on loneliness and subjective well-being", Online Information Review, Vol. 43 No. 4, pp. 635-652. https://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-04-2017-0137

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited