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The Psychology of TikTok

Date: 10/04/23

Author Name: Sareem Athar

Qualifications: BA (Psychology, Mass Communication & Journalism, Literature), MSc Clinical Psychology, Diploma in Child Psychology.

Designation: Former Admin Head, ACRO Mental Health & Wellness.

Word count: 525

Reading time: 7 minutes.

Reviewed & edited by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya, Mariyam Mohammed & Ayesha Begum

How the popular video-sharing app taps into our desires for social validation and self-expression

Are you ready to get addicted to platforms like TikTok? Um… Reels. Hah! You know you are! However, let's just discuss Tiktok, the popular video-sharing app that has taken the world by storm, offering users a platform to showcase their creativity, humor, and dance moves. Also, have you ever stopped to think about why we're so drawn to this app? It's all about psychology, baby (1,2).

Let's start with the obvious: social validation (3). We all crave acceptance and recognition, and TikTok delivers that in spades (4,5). Every time we upload a video, we're putting ourselves out there for the world to see (and judge). When that video gets likes, comments, and shares, it feels like we've won the jackpot. According to a study by Martin et al., receiving social feedback activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as food, sex, and money (6,7). That's right, likes are basically the same as pizza. Don't deny it, you know it's true.

It's not just about the likes. TikTok also taps into our desire for self-expression (8). The app allows us to be whoever we want to be, whether that's a comedy genius, a makeup artist, or a singer(9). We can experiment with different styles and personas, without the fear of judgment that often comes with expressing ourselves in real life (10). As O'Neill et al. explains, self-expression is a fundamental human need, and platforms like TikTok give us a space to fulfill that need (11,12).

Naturally, there is also the fun element. TikTok is the best place to find entertainment because there is so much to scroll through for hours on end (13). There is something for everyone, from adorable animal videos to hilarious lip-syncs. Not to mention, there are dance challenges. Who knew we all had a hidden talent for choreography? (14)

However, TikTok is more than just pointless entertainment (15). The app can also serve as an inspiration and educational tool (16). Many creators use their platform to spread the word about significant issues like social justice and mental health (17). For a younger audience, they make these subjects more approachable and interesting by using humor and creativity to convey their messages (18).

There you have it, then. its ideal balance of fun, self-expression, and social validation, TikTok is unbeatable. But remember to take breaks and be mindful of your screen time before you fall into the rabbit hole of endless scrolling (19). If anyone questions why you spend so much time on TikTok, just explain that you're gratifying a basic human need for social validation and self-expression. Works every time (20,21).

In conclusion, TikTok or any other social media platform is an essential part of an individual’s life. However, there are negative consequences to being hooked to such apps. If you or anyone you know is experiencing self esteem issues in their lives, please identify the same and approach a mental health service provider at the earliest. To know more about the services offered by ACRO Mental Health & Wellness, you can reach us at (+91) 91004-23015.


1. Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

2. Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

3. Photo by Aaron Weiss on Unsplash


(1)Martin, B., Campbell, W. K., & Narciss, S. (2017). How social media platforms can be used as a novel tool to collect data for psychological research. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 20-25.

(2)O'Neill, S., McNeill, A., & Moss, A. C. (2018). Social media, self-esteem, and self-expression: A review. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 7(4), 448-463.

(3)Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., ... & Colditz, J. B. (2018). Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 55(6), 701-708.

4. Montag C, Yang H, Elhai JD. On the psychology of TikTok use: A first glimpse from empirical findings. Front Public Health [Internet]. 2021;9:641673. Available from:

5. Du Y, Lin S, Zhang X. An empirical study on the factors influencing the number of fans of female-oriented accounts on Chinese tik Tok. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];13:826819. Available from:

6. Avella H. “TikTok ≠ therapy”: Mediating mental health and algorithmic mood disorders. New Media Soc [Internet]. 2023;146144482211472. Available from:

7. Zhu X, Xiong Z. Exploring association between social media addiction, fear of missing out, and self-presentation online among university students: A cross-sectional study. Front Psychiatry [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];13:896762. Available from:

8. Harriger JA, Thompson JK, Tiggemann M. TikTok, TikTok, the time is now: Future directions in social media and body image. Body Image [Internet]. 2023;44:222–6. Available from:

9. Rosen D. The social media debate the social media debate: Unpacking the social, psychological, and cultural effects of social media [Internet]. Rosen D, editor. London, England: Routledge; 2022. Available from:

10. Roberts JA, David ME. Instagram and TikTok flow states and their association with psychological well-being. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw [Internet]. 2023;26(2):80–9. Available from:

11. Wilson C, McDarby V. Social media and mental health. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry [Internet]. 2023;28(1):157–60. Available from:

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13. Nufus R, Maharani W, Zahro EB. Capture the psychological image of youth using tik tok applications. ICHSS [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 June 6];547–51. Available from:

14. Wang Q, Yang M, Zhang W. Accessing the influence of perceived value on social attachment: Developing country perspective. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 June 6];12:760774. Available from:

15. Chochol MD, Gandhi K, Elmaghraby R, Croarkin PE. Harnessing youth’s engagement with mental health TikTok and its potential as a public health tool. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 6]; Available from:

16. Pantic I. Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 June 6];17(10):652–7. Available from:

17. Berry N, Emsley R, Lobban F, Bucci S. Social media and its relationship with mood, self-esteem and paranoia in psychosis. Acta Psychiatr Scand [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 June 6];138(6):558–70. Available from:

18. Pop LM, Iorga M, Iurcov R. Body-esteem, self-esteem and loneliness among social media young users. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];19(9):5064. Available from:

19. Vaingankar JA, van Dam RM, Samari E, Chang S, Seow E, Chua YC, et al. Social media-driven routes to positive mental health among youth: Qualitative enquiry and concept mapping study. JMIR Pediatr Parent [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 June 6];5(1):e32758. Available from:

20. Young L, Kolubinski DC, Frings D. Attachment style moderates the relationship between social media use and user mental health and wellbeing. Heliyon [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 6];6(6):e04056. Available from:

21. O’Reilly M, Levine D, Donoso V, Voice L, Hughes J, Dogra N. Exploring the potentially positive interaction between social media and mental health; the perspectives of adolescents. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 June 6];28(2):668–82. Available from:


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