PhotoSome might say that social networking has some definite benefits.

It allows you to stay in touch with people, whether they're close or far away, and it gives you the chance to see what your friends and family members are up to.

But how many of us use social media to gain outside acceptance? Moreover, why do so many of us need outside approval at all?

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the type of approval people seek depends on their age. And the type of social media they use to get that approval also differs with age.

Who uses what

"Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissism posted more often on Twitter," explained Elliot Panek, one of the study authors. "But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook."

Some might believe  middle-aged social media users would be over the whole seeking approval thing, but that's not the case says Panek.

He says many older adults seek approval from their peers just as much as young adults do.

"It's about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image," he said. "Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles."

Why do we do it?

PhotoBut why is getting outside approval so important to us? Because many of us have looked for approval at one time or another, right?

As consumers, constantly seeking validation can lead to problems. Like purchasing things we can't afford just to make a good impression or accumulating a massive amount of debt just to keep up with the Joneses.

A separate study conducted by the University College London and Aarhus University in Denmark confirmed that when someone agrees with our choices, a certain part of our brains become active. And that part of the brain is the part associated with reward.

This was determined by researchers who gathered 28 people and had them listen to 20 different songs through headphones. Everyone was then asked to rate each song from one to 10, according to how much they liked it and how much they wanted to take it home.

Afterwards, researchers played all of the songs to the group and to a couple of music experts. Then an open discussion took place.

When the music experts agreed with a participant that a song was good, the participant's part of the brain associated with reward became active -- even though no reward was given -- just outside validation.

Herd mentality

Magnetic Resonance Imaging was used to view the brain activity of the participants.

At the conclusion of the study, researchers said just about all of us use other people's opinions to figure out what's valuable to us.

"Humans and animals use the reaction of others to help determine what is valuable, what to eat, what is dangerous, what is attractive, and (for humans) what to wear, what medicine to take, and for whom to vote -- to give but a few examples," wrote the researchers. "Each object, from food to parliamentary candidate, has a perceived value, which can be changed through social influence."

Searching for contentment

Byron Katie

Byron Katie, speaker and author of several books including "I need your love -- is that true?" says seeking approval makes it extremely hard to find true contentment.

"We stand in front of a person, we imagine what they want us to sound like, and we put on a facade in order to win their approval," said Katie in a published interview. 

"And then when they say something like 'I approve of you,' part of us doesn't really believe it because we know they're approving of a facade. The irony is that the struggle to win love and approval makes it impossible to have them," she said.

Using social media

Panek of the University of Michigan study says, while older adults seek validation on their lifestyle choices, younger people look for others to agree with their opinions. And they use Twitter to do it.

Researchers figured this out after examining 486 college undergraduates and each one of the students took a personality test that measured their levels of exhibitionism, exploitativeness, superiority, authority and self-sufficiency.

The participants were asked about their social media use as well and researchers learned that a high percentage of the students used Twitter in a narcissistic way, often looking for outside approval.

"Young people may over-evaluate the importance of their own opinions," said Panek. "Through Twitter, they're trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues."

Katie says it's important for people to work on self-acceptance, because once you become okay with yourself, you'll care less and less about what others think of you.

"If you approve of yourself, you can approach people totally, without seeking approval," she says. "You realize that their reaction has to do with who they believe you are, not with who you really are. So their approval is just icing on the cake, because you already have what's most important; your own love."

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