TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat – AR filters change self-perception
Researchers are studying how beauty AR filters affect self-perception. The results are mixed.
Discussions about the impact of social apps like Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat specifically on young people’s self-perception are about as old as the platforms themselves.
Most recently, they picked up steam again on Instagram after the Wall Street Journal revealed Meta’s internal research findings: According to the report, Meta is aware of Instagram’s negative effects on the psyche of young girls in particular – but doesn’t address them for the sake of profit.
According to Meta, this portrayal is false, and internal coordination processes are more complex than the report portrays.
Augmented reality filters: taking reality distortion to a new level
With AR filters, platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat have a new tool at their disposal that can take reality distortion, which is already distorted on many accounts, to a new level in the context of a body cult. Of course, AR technology doesn’t fundamentally solve this issue, but it can serve as another catalyst.
This realization is not new, it already caused a debate and a consequence: In spring 2020, Facebook took beauty filters from Instagram, which supposedly beautify a face via digital plastic surgery.
Corresponding AR filters can, for example, enlarge eyes or make lips fuller and do so in real time in videos. A study published at the end of 2019 shows that such facial filters can increase interest in cosmetic surgery.
Research paper: how do AR filters affect self-image?
Marketing researchers from four universities have now conducted a study to investigate the effect of makeup filters that are more widely available on platforms.
“AR filters are commonly used to alter a consumer’s appearance. This may seem innocuous, but physical appearance is a key component of identity and as such can have a significant impact on psychological well-being,” the researchers explain their work.
In this context, they speak of the “augmented self” – a self-image influenced by AR technology that is both a threat and an opportunity in terms of self-improvement. In a series of studies, they examined self-perception before and after the use of a make-up AR filter in comparison to the conventional mirror image.
The result: The initial level of one’s own self-esteem significantly influences the effect of AR filters – but differently than perhaps expected.
Subjects with a high level of self-esteem experienced a 44 percent larger gap to the ideal state after using the filter than after looking at their mirror image. Subjects with low self-esteem, on the other hand, reported a 16 percent smaller gap to the ideal state after using the AR filter.
How does this fit together? According to the researchers, subjects with low self-esteem felt “more beautiful” with the AR filter, i.e., closer to an ideal. The filter showed them an attractive, possibly attainable alternative state of themselves.
Self-satisfied subjects, on the other hand, felt more unsettled by the visually realistic intrusion into their natural appearance. “In a follow-up survey, we found that when the AR filter increased the gap between how participants wanted to look and how they felt they actually looked, it reduced their self-compassion and tolerance for their own physical flaws,” the researchers write.
AR filters shouldn’t reinforce unrealistic beauty standards
According to the researchers, AR filters “have a significant impact on how people see themselves – for better or worse.” They call for clear guidelines and propose an initial framework for action, which they detail in their research paper.
- Do not promote unrealistic beauty standards
- Allow self-chosen adjustments
- Encourage positive self-affirmation
- Acknowledge and address mental health risks
- Help shape a code of ethics
These calls are particularly directed at the advertising industry. Companies would need to “proactively address the unforeseen challenges that come with digitally augmenting self-perception” and always keep in mind how AR technology could impact consumers’ mental well-being.