Instagram Self-Harm Pictures Push Viewers To Do Exactly That, Study Says

Carl CourtGetty Images

A new study conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania — and two partnering European institutions — found that pictures of self-harm on Instagram may push viewers to self-harm, themselves.

Although recent research suggests that graphic images of self-harm have become more prevalent on Instagram, the study — which was published in New Media & Society — is the first of its kind, working to determine how often these images reach viewers as well as the effects that said images have on their audience.

“Media researchers, suicide experts, and parents have all expressed concern in the past about this explicit content on Instagram,” said Florian Arendt, lead author of the study. Arendt is also a health communication professor at the University of Vienna.

The study administered a survey to 729 young adults from the United States, ages 18 to 29. Over 80 percent of the survey respondents were women. The survey was administered at two points through the study’s timeline, two months apart — the first survey being conducted in May of 2018 and the second in June of 2018.

The results of the study found that over 43 percent of participants had viewed a self-harm post on Instagram at least once — and of these people, more than 50 percent had viewed more than one such post. In addition, 80 percent of the participants that viewed self-harm posts didn’t intend to — they discovered them by accident. Of the people that were exposed to the self-harm posts, over 59 percent said that they experienced emotional distress as a result of the experience.

However, almost 32 percent of the participants who were exposed to self-harm posts said that — during the first survey that they answered — they had performed the same, or similar, self-harming behavior following their viewing of the content. Not only that, Phys.org reports that individuals whom said that they were exposed to self-harm images during the first interview were more likely than participants that didn’t to report self-harm behavior during the second interview.

“The findings suggest that whether the Instagram posts instigate self-harm on their own or not, they do reach vulnerable young people and may play a role in encouraging similar behavior in those who are exposed to them,” said Dan Romer, senior author on the study and research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC).

There have been other studies suggesting a link between media, self-harm, and suicide. As The Inquisitr previously reported, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why was linked to a 28.9 percent increase in teenage suicide for the 10 through 17 age group in a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.