The Difference Between Getting Likes and Being Liked / by Nima Tonekaboni

Status Popularity and The Fear of Missing Out

By Nima Tonekaboni & Amanda Eagleson


The Amplification of FOMO

Do you have FOMO? Have you ever noticed you are not enjoying the present moment? You might think that you need to catch up with the other people.

What’s new with your friends? Did you see your cousin’s new photo with his husband from the gorgeous views of Caribbean ocean on Facebook?  Oh, did you like her photo on Instagram as well?! Wow…You didn’t check your Twitter this morning?!

Fear of Missing Out is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

Studies have found that a perceived obligation to have a complete and constantly updated social media representation of ourselves can cause stress.You might think what should I do with that? Should I quit using social media? Does being on these platforms cause FOMO?

It’s not just a matter of being present in the moment. It’s what you are sacrificing to be present is important. How you are utilizing this powerful tool determines your level of stress. Because technology is not the reason we experience the FOMO, It’s just a tool. It all depends on how we use it. It’s alright to feel good if your posts get hundreds of likes. But is it going to make you feel obliged to get others’ confirmation and acknowledgement all the time?

The reason that we experience FOMO is our struggle to answer the existential question.

"Am I significant?"


And when we are not able to find the answer to that question, we feel FOMO. However, what most people don’t realize is that we will never be able to overcome FOMO, it is rooted in our desire to live our fullest possible life. If the focus is turned inward, and not on the competitive and quantitative aspect, it can fuel us to do just that, and push us to form more meaningful connections.

Seeking Status vs. Likability

FOMO is related to the seeking of “Status popularity”.  There are two types of popularity; one is connected to likability, and one to status. Both can be traced back to our evolutionary origins, the need to stay safe in the herd.

So, what is exactly the difference between status and likability?

Likability can be defined as the substantive type of popularity: you care and listen to others and others know this, and like you.

Status is the popularity based on how much people admire (or even fear) what you do or what you have. It is based on external factors rather than who you are as a person.


Studies show that over a lifetime, status popularity does not guarantee happiness, and can in fact be very damaging.  Popularity based on likability however, is always positive and will make you happy.

We have become more and more geared to value “status popularity” and social media has rapidly increased this as an acceptable shift.  The more primitive regions of the brain (the limbic system) are especially sensitive to social rewards.  In his book Popular, Mitch Prinstein examines this matter extensively and details how these social platforms can have destructive effects if we are using it for the wrong reasons.

While many use social media to connect with old friends and make new ones, others are “lurkers” stalking and viewing profiles.

“This use of online platforms to engage in 'social comparison' and 'feedback-seeking' is linked with later depression.” - Popular by Mitch Prinstein

“It seems that people are choosing to invest in visibility, prominence and immediate social rewards rather than in more meaningful connections. People are, in short, choosing to pursue status over likability.”

What can be done?

Prinstein does stress that social media is not bad. It may provide coping support for those who have suffered adversity or help to establish social connections among those who may not have access to similar peers in their community. Social media may help teens develop impression management skills or efficient communication patterns that prove beneficial later.

Awareness in childhood and early adolescence as to the two types of popularity and what makes us crave status popularity, even if it is to our own detriment, is key.  


Our later behaviours and values are shaped by our adolescence in important ways.  Education regarding popularity (as well as what happens to the brain during adolescence not just the body) can make social media more the positive force it could be.

If we ignore this, social media becomes a dealer to our more basic urges of status seeking and we accept “likes” over likability.  This makes individuals (and society) less healthy, less happy, and often less kind.

But we definitely have an option: Letting the instincts move us toward status or likability. It’s not always easy to choose likability in a status-obsessed world but making a conscious effort leads to a far happier life.


  1. Popular: Mitch Prinstein

  2. FOMO - the fear of missing out: Bobby Mook at TEDxUNC