Bevelander, K. E., Anschütz, D. J., Creemers, D. H. M., Kleinjan, M., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2013). The role of explicit and implicit self-esteem in peer modeling of food intake: A study on social media interactions among youngsters. PLOS ONE, 8(8), e72481. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072481

Abstract: This experimental study investigated the impact of peers on palatable food intake of youngsters within a social media setting. To determine whether this effect was moderated by self-esteem, the present study examined the roles of global explicit self-esteem (ESE), body esteem (BE) and implicit self-esteem (ISE). Participants (N = 118; 38.1% boys; M age 11.14±.79) were asked to play a computer game while they believed to interact online with a same-sex normal-weight remote confederate (i.e., instructed peer) who ate either nothing, a small or large amount of candy. Participants modeled the candy intake of peers via a social media interaction, but this was qualified by their self-esteem. Participants with higher ISE adjusted their candy intake to that of a peer more closely than those with lower ISE when the confederate ate nothing compared to when eating a modest (β = .26, p = .05) or considerable amount of candy (kcal) (β = .32, p = .001). In contrast, participants with lower BE modeled peer intake more than those with higher BE when eating nothing compared to a considerable amount of candy (kcal) (β = .21, p = .02); ESE did not moderate social modeling behavior. In addition, participants with higher discrepant or “damaged” self-esteem (i.e., high ISE and low ESE) modeled peer intake more when the peer ate nothing or a modest amount compared to a substantial amount of candy (kcal) (β = −.24, p = .004; β = −.26, p<.0001, respectively). Youngsters conform to the amount of palatable food eaten by peers through social media interaction. Those with lower body esteem or damaged self-esteem may be more at risk to peer influences on food intake.