Do you spend time on major social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok? If so, you’re probably familiar with the augmented reality (AR) filters you can apply to photos or videos of yourself or someone else’s face.

AR filters and applications are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for retail brands trying to sell you products. For example, Home Depot, Amazon, IKEA, Wayfair, Sephora, and Walmart leverage AR to help potential customers make purchasing decisions.

Some apps allow you to view an item 360 degrees to see how it would fit into your home. Sephora’s mobile app has a Virtual Artist feature, which lets you try on beauty products and other cosmetics without having to buy them.

Here’s how this tech could influence users’ perceptions of themselves.

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The Rise of AR Filters on Social Media Platforms

AR filters and other AR-powered app features have gained traction in the past few years. Snapchat users often post photos or videos with filters, whether a pair of dog ears on their head, an overlay that covers up blemishes or a branded filter promoting a new product.

More than 1 billion people used AR features in 2022 including social lenses on Snapchat and Instagram. Built-in AR tools allow users to post a limitless number of pictures and videos with filters that tend to change, alter or augment their appearance.

Altering your appearance can be fun, especially when Snapchat or Instagram incorporates new filters on their apps. You can use them to distort or add makeup to your face, see a cartoon version of yourself, and plenty of other effects.

Brands can engage with social media users who alter their photos and videos with AR filters, lenses and effects on a whole new level. However, what risks are associated with constantly changing your appearance?

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Why Use AR Filters in the First Place?

In psychology, it’s well-known that your physical appearance plays a significant role in helping you form a unique personal identity. However, it can also impact your psychological well-being.

It’s no secret that social media users crave likes and comments on their photos. Some would even suggest that these platforms’ sole purpose is to encourage these interactions. You may be surprised to learn that there’s a psychological reason behind our desire to earn likes and comments on social media.

When you receive positive feedback on a filtered photo, your brain releases dopamine, the hormone associated with pleasure and reward. As you earn more likes and comments, your brain interprets them as legitimate rewards and will continue to produce it.

AR’s Negative Effects on Self-Image

When you put a filter on a photo, does it change how others perceive you or how you see yourself? There’s no clear answer to this question. However, it’s fair to say that using a filter on a photo of yourself that you feel is “ugly” or catches you at a bad angle could make you feel better.

There’s more evidence to suggest that AR filters do impact a user’s self-image. In a recent Forbes article, Dr. Melissa Doft, a double board-certified plastic surgeon, states that more of her patients are complaining about their appearance on Zoom rather than what they see in the mirror.

Some experts even dub the shift brought about by social media as “Instagram face” or “Snapchat dysmorphia.” Social media users often compare unfiltered photos of themselves to filtered pictures and start to nitpick their facial features.

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An Uptick in Cosmetic Surgeries

Although filters are still relatively new, their adverse effects on social media users are quite evident. Filters inspire social media users to physically alter their appearance in the real world, not just on an app like Snapchat or Instagram.

People have gone to extreme lengths to change their physical appearance by opting for cosmetic procedures in recent years. For example, people might receive Botox injections, lip fillers, or nonsurgical fat removal to improve their appearance. These procedures are minimally invasive and highly lucrative for the skin care and dermatology industry.

The skin care industry is growing and will likely reach around $145 billion by 2028. The widespread use of photo-editing and AR effects could accelerate this growth because more users could feel inclined to receive cosmetic or plastic surgery to alter their appearance.

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Can AR Filters Promote Improved Self-Perception in Social Media Users?

AR filters can influence a user’s self-image, for better or worse. Social media companies and the advertising industry are in the middle of controversy surrounding filters and how they impact a user’s psychological well-being.

Social media companies and advertisers are not the only ones to blame, but they are still responsible for providing these filters and encouraging users to apply them to photos and videos. Snapchat also allows users to create their own filters and lenses online.

Rather than perpetuate cases of negative self-perception among users, there are a few ways these organizations can promote a positive self-image for users, including:

• Avoiding promoting unrealistic body and beauty standards
• Giving users the option to choose which adjustments they apply to their photos and videos
• Encouraging positive affirmations
• Acknowledging how AR filters impact self-image
• Educating users on AR’s role in creating potential mental health issues

Additionally, social media entities can collaborate to form a code of ethics for the use of AR and other advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and extended reality (XR).

For example, the World Economic Forum launched its Global Future Council on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, a group focused on raising awareness and educating people on the advantages and risks of using AR and VR technology.

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Understanding the Psychological Effects of AR Filters on Social Media

Most people understand that AR filters are not grounded in reality, but they can change how users view themselves and can even play a role in determining someone’s sense of self-worth. People should be aware of the risks as filters become more popular and spend time focusing on developing a positive self-image offline.

Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief of Rehack.

Header image credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash 

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