Instagram Tests Hiding Likes to ‘Remove Pressure,’ Company Says

Six new markets will be unable to see how many likes their friends receive

Instagram has expanded hiding “likes” to six new countries, months after the Facebook-owned app launched its initial test in Canada.

On Wednesday, Instagram rolled out the test in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Users will still be able to see how many like their posts get, but when someone else goes to their post, the total number of likes will be absent.

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” Facebook director Mia Garlick told the BBC.

The larger test comes only a few months after Instagram head Adam Mosseri told BuzzFeed News the company wants users to focus less on their like counts. Mosseri said he wanted to create “a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” rather than an environment where people delete posts that don’t rack up enough likes.

The test also comes as there’s mounting evidence likes are detrimental to mental health.

A 2017 study from the U.K. Royal Society for Public Health reported Instagram was the social app most detrimental to mental health for people 14-24, often exacerbating their depression, anxiety or body image issues. Instagram in particular makes young women “compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and Photoshopped versions of reality,” the report said.

“The brain responds to likes like any other reward or thing that excites the brain like food, sex or gambling,” Cal State University professor Ofir Turel  recently told TheWrap. “When you get likes, the reward system lights up and releases dopamine, making us feel good.”

That good feeling can become fleeting, though, as users get hooked on checking their phones for social validation after posting a picture or video. Turel, who has studied the impact of social media on the brain for more than a decade, said users habitually check their phones — including 40% of Americans while driving — because Instagram and other platforms have created a “variable reward,” something best associated with betting in a casino.