Thursday, 25 February 2021

Study Finds Instagram Likes can make you less lonely, but more unhappy

Research from NUI Galway in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza, Spain has carried out a study on how Instagram Likes affect people. Instagram recently piloted an initiative of hiding the number of Likes a post receives from other users. A rationale for hiding Likes was to support wellbeing through reduced competition for Likes. In an experiment with 280 Instagram users in the United States, the researchers investigated the effect of hiding Likes on negative affect (a subjective form of emotional distress, for instance being upset, ashamed, or nervous) and loneliness. Results show that this new measure introduced by Instagram can improve users’ wellbeing. In the study, which had 62% male and 38% female participants with an average age of 34, Instagram users were asked how many Likes they would expect to receive for a post. On average 145 Likes were expected. The participants were then given scenarios where they received a lot more or far fewer Likes than they expected, and also that their followers could or could not see how many Likes they received. Following each scenario, the participants’ negative affect and their loneliness were measured using a questionnaire. The study’s author, Dr Elaine Wallace, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics, NUI Galway, said: “We already know, for instance, that people who are lonely tend to be bigger users of social media, and tend to generate and consume more Instagram content. We also know that social media use can lead to social comparison, or ‘sizing up’ how we are doing relative to others, and this can lead to negative outcomes. "In this study, we wanted to investigate whether hiding Instagram Likes would have an effect on users’ wellbeing, when they received a high or a low number of Likes for a post. If, for instance, I expect to get 10 Likes for a post, does getting far more than 10 Likes make me feel less lonely? If others cannot see how many Likes I get, does that have any effect?” Dr Wallace continued: “In our study we found that competition for relative position in terms of number of Likes may be making people unhappy. People are seeking Likes to feel less lonely, but getting those Likes also increases negative affect - those feelings of being upset or ashamed or nervous. We found this especially when Instagram users know that others can see how many Likes they get. Hiding the visibility of an Instagram users’ Likes from others could therefore be a good idea.” The study also found that when Likes were much lower than Instagram users hoped, they were more lonely, but they did not experience negative affect, even when those Likes were visible to others. The researchers believe this may be because these people feel they have already ‘lost’ to others in the relative competition for Likes, so it did not matter to them whether their Likes were visible or not. The study also looked at Instagram users who are vulnerable narcissists, individuals who might be especially sensitive to image threat and to interpersonal rejection and may engage in tactics to try to avoid rejection. In the study, vulnerable narcissism was associated with greater loneliness. Dr Wallace added: “Vulnerable narcissists have a great fear of being evaluated. Our study shows that, for vulnerable narcissists, getting higher numbers of Likes reduces loneliness. These users are especially sensitive to social comparison, and they may be engaging in Like-seeking to seek validation and avoid rejection.” Co-author Isabel Buil, from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, concluded: “Like-seeking can become a vicious cycle, as our findings suggest that when people receive more Likes they feel less lonely, but receiving more Likes can also make them feel more unhappy, especially when others can see those Likes. This could trigger Like-seeking behaviours again. We find little evidence to suggest that well-being is improved by showing Likes to Instagram followers.” Read the full study in the journal, Elsevier ScienceDirect, here: See a short video about the study here: -Ends-

News Archive

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Call for researchers, at undergraduate or early postgraduate level, to apply for the first All-Ireland MS Research Network Research Summer Scholarships Researchers in NUI Galway, Queen’s University Belfast and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences have launched the All-Ireland MS Research Network today (24 February 2021). The All-Ireland MS Research Network will join together the largest number of scientists, clinicians, healthcare professionals and people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to accelerate collaborative research across the island of Ireland. Going from the patient to the bench and bringing discovery research forward to the patient, the network holds potential to limit the progression of multiple sclerosis, to train future generations of researchers and to contribute to global multiple sclerosis research. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, immune-mediated condition of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerve). In multiple sclerosis, myelin damage results in a range of symptoms including impairment of mobility and vision as well as cognitive difficulties and severe fatigue. As one of the most common causes of neurological disability in young people, multiple sclerosis is increasing in incidence and prevalence around the world. Currently, there are approximately 13,500 people on the island of Ireland living with multiple sclerosis (4,500 in Northern Ireland and 9,000 in the Republic of Ireland). The goals of the All-Ireland MS Research Network are to: Deliver cutting-edge research in multiple sclerosis that focuses on limiting disease progression Train the next generation of leaders in multiple sclerosis research Communicate multiple sclerosis research activities and discoveries to the public, research community and key stakeholders Collaborate on multiple sclerosis research programmes nationally and internationally to achieve the mission of the network Founding investigators Professor Denise Fitzgerald, Dr Alerie Guzman de la Fuente and Dr Yvonne Dombrowski (Queen's University Belfast), Dr Claire McCoy (RCSI) and Dr Una FitzGerald and Dr Jill McMahon (NUI Galway), reached out to dozens of multi-disciplinary multiple sclerosis researchers across the island of Ireland, North and South. Network members are drawn from hospitals, multiple sclerosis day-care centres, Universities, and from those who have multiple sclerosis. Dr Una Fitzgerald, Biomedical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering, NUI Galway, said: “The founding members have worked tirelessly over the last 12 months to define the All-Ireland MS Research Networks's goals, aspirations and research mission. We firmly believe that closer collaborations and sharing of ideas and expertise across the network will lead to exciting discoveries that better explain multiple sclerosis pathology and symptoms, and that could be the basis of new approaches to MS disease management. The network will facilitate excellence in new multiple sclerosis research discoveries that might otherwise not happen.” Dr Chris McGuigan, consultant neurologist, St. Vincent’s University Hospital, UCD Clinical Professor, and a network participant, said: “The formation of All-Ireland MS Research Network is an exciting new venture that will promote and accelerate  research into multiple sclerosis on the island of Ireland, enhancing our reputation for research excellence worldwide. It will provide coordinated information on developments in multiple sclerosis research nationally including the latest laboratory research outputs and novel technical advances. The network is multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and cross-community, and will partner with global collaborators to ensure continued opportunities to participate in the latest bench-to-bedside studies to improve care for people living with multiple sclerosis and inspire, engage and train a new generation of clinical and academic researchers in Ireland.” Alexis Donnelly, has lived with progressive multiple sclerosis for nearly 30 years, and is excited by the formation of All-Ireland MS Research Network. “This network will facilitate multiple sclerosis researchers throughout the island to cooperate across institutional and disciplinary boundaries, linking them not only with each other but with international colleagues and allowing fresh results and insights to flow back and forth. This can only accelerate the pace of research into progressive multiple sclerosis both nationally and internationally. “I am reminded of the story of Professor Alan Thompson, Professor of Neurology in University College London and chair of the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Progressive MS Alliance, of which I am a member. Alan's interest in progressive multiple sclerosis was piqued initially by the discovery, in the basement of a Dublin Hospital, of an empty room labeled ‘MS research’. This network promises to replace that empty room with a vibrant community of multiple sclerosis researchers. It will hasten the day when no more people have to bear the burdens of progressive multiple sclerosis. I am also impressed by the equal status that people with multiple sclerosis themselves will enjoy in that effort. Our own experiences and perspectives will enrich this initiative and the focus of its work.” MS Research Summer Scholarships Coinciding with the launch, the network is opening a call for budding multiple sclerosis researchers, at undergraduate or early postgraduate level, to apply for the first All-Ireland MS Research Network Research Summer Scholarships. Following a generous donation from Eamonn Haughton and Declan Smith, of Chemical Systems Control Ireland, the first scholarship will be awarded in 2021 to a successful candidate who is considering a multiple sclerosis-focused research career. Eamonn Haughton, Chemical Systems Control Ireland, said: “New therapies for multiple sclerosis will be built on state-of-the-art research. Funded junior researchers will spend time in research groups based in at least two of the participating organisations. It is hoped that the seeds sewn by this research will help to bring multiple sclerosis treatments to the next level.” For more information visit and for more details about the scholarship call see or follow on Twitter @aims_rn. -Ends-

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair and Director of the Institute for Lifecourse and Society at NUI Galway, has been awarded a prestigious D’Arcy McGee Beacon Fellowship from the Board of Trustees of the Ireland Canada University Foundation, a scholarship program which supports the development of connections between Canada and Ireland through online engagement.  The D’Arcy McGee Beacon Fellowship facilitates critical connections over distance. This programme enables leading Irish and Canadian academics, researchers and thinkers to connect online, in a programme of activity designed to nurture and develop strong and fruitful collaborations which will enrich connections between both countries and the wider international community. Speaking about the award, Professor Dolan said: “I am delighted to have been awarded this highly prestigious D’Arcy McGee Beacon Fellowship from the Board of Trustees of the Ireland Canada University Foundation. At a time when it is so important to feel connected with others, the programme will facilitate collaboration with academic colleagues in Canada. The particular focus of the Fellowship will be to promote Empathy education in Canada and Ireland which is a particular research interest of mine.” This award follows on from the launch of a new initiative last year to introduce Empathy education for secondary school students in Ireland.  The programme, Activating Social Empathy, is part of a suite of work undertaken by a team of researchers at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre NUI Galway that has developed a concrete basis for understanding empathy education among adolescents. A major focus of the UNESCO Chair’s work both nationally and internationally, is the role of empathy in the development of social understanding and its potential to enable young people to foster better social responsibility, civic behaviour and critically, action.  Professor Dolan is joint founder of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre and Director of the Institute for Lifecourse and Society at NUI Galway, and holds the prestigious UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, the first to be awarded in the Republic of Ireland. He is currently Co-Principal Investigator on a UN Global Study measuring the social impact of COVID 19 on youth world wide - the study involves over 100 countries and all UN Regions. For over 20 years, Professor Dolan has completed an extensive body of research on family issues including longitudinal research on adolescents, youth mental health, resilience and social support networks and has over 100 publications a wide range of academic publications including authored books and journals. His major research interests are Civic Engagement, Social Empathy, Family Support, Youth Mentoring, and Resilience. He has also extensive policy experience both nationally and internationally having worked with the Irish Government as well as UNESCO, UNICEF, and the United Nations Youth Office in New York, USA. As part of the fellowship, Professor Dolan, along with host Dr Derek Gladwin, Department of Language and Literacy Education at University of British Columbia, Canada will be delivering a formal online public lecture as a Beacon Fellow and a series of workshop events later this year. For more information on the D’Arcy McGee Beacon Fellowship visit  -Ends-

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

NUI Galway academic examines use of software, tech and AI in justice system as part of SFI Public Service Fellowship  The rapid development and increased use of software and technology for legal services and in the courts could reduce costs and improve access to justice but deepen the digital divide and strengthen existing biases in the justice system, research from NUI Galway has cautioned. Dr Rónán Kennedy, lecturer in the University’s School of Law, examined the availability and growth of “lawtech” in an advisory paper for the Oireachtas Library & Research Service. Dr Kennedy was awarded a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Public Service Fellowship to carry out the research as part of the Spotlight series, which gives TDs and Senators in-depth briefings on a single policy issue or topic.  The research paper “Algorithms, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Irish Legal Services Market”, outlined the pros and cons of increased use of software and technology in the legal sector. Dr Kennedy said: “Lawtech has been part of a wave of change and innovation in the legal services market, globally and in Ireland. It could save consumers and businesses money and time, and be a sector for economic growth.  “However, it is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of access to justice. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used more by lawyers and courts, it could lead to fairer outcomes or repeat existing biases.” The research paper noted: Lawtech could reduce costs and provide better access to justice by making it easier for lawyers to create standard documents or allowing people to access legal information and advice online, including through automated apps. It could worsen the digital divide in society and solidify existing biases in the legal system, by preventing those without IT skills from accessing legal services or by relying on historical data which is prejudiced. Areas for immediate legislative intervention include expansion of the validity of digital signatures for uses such as wills or legal proceedings, and the admissibility of digital recordings in court. Members of the Oireachtas could consider longer-term policy questions, such as whether AI professions should be regulated or how to manage the use of AI by lawyers and judges. The Oireachtas and Government may need to explore whether some legislation should be “born digital”’ - written both in a human language and computer language from the outset. Dr Kennedy’s research noted that AI software programs may also “learn” to discriminate in ways that are illegal, focusing on characteristics that are proxies for social class, race or gender such as home address or height. “It is unlikely that AI can or will ever replace humans, but it may allow faster, cheaper, and fairer judging. However, if this software is not carefully designed, it could make prejudice even more difficult to remove from the justice system,” he said.  Dr Kennedy said: “The paper explores technology which is already bringing about significant transformation in legal practice and in the courts, and may change it radically in the future. “The SFI Public Interest Fellowship provided a very interesting opportunity to learn more about how the Oireachtas operates, the important work of legislators, and how researchers can contribute to the development of policy.  “My findings raise important questions that lawmakers and everyone involved in legal services should consider. The pandemic has shown how useful technology can be, but we need to have a debate about how we manage tools like remote court hearings and AI assistants for lawyers and judges to ensure that all of the impacts are positive.” Ends

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