ABREU, Liliane Alcântara de. Et al. Digital influencers and self-image as a product of consumer behavior. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year. 07, Ed. 01, Vol. 05, pp. 05-33. January 2022. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access Link: https://www.nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/psychology/consumer-behavior
This article is the result of a psychology study focusing on the behavior of individuals named digital influencers and their followers. The guide problem was fixed on the question: What causes subjects to be susceptible to changes in their behavior such as the command of someone unknown? Thus, the general objective focused on how influencers act in virtual spaces and their impact on the behavior of the individuals who accompany them. The hypotheses were assumed that influencers need to create and maintain concepts of happiness; for this they raise ways of exposing themselves, with this, many individuals, in contemporary society, are developing psychic diseases, due to this need for exposure. As a method, the research was based on the observation and analysis of six Brazilian female influencers, in the age groups 20 to 25 years and from 35 to 40 years, observing their lifestyles, subjects addressed and the comments produced by supporters and haters. A literature review was also carried out for the theoretical discussion under the light of some scholars to understand and explain this phenomenon. As results and conclusions, it was noticed that many influencers, followers and even haters would be in symbiosis with narcissism, fear of exclusion, invisibility and the search for full happiness. On the other hand, it was possible to detect that other influencers produce information of social increase in a useful and positive way.
Keywords: Behavior; Influencers; Digital; Psychology; Society.
The phenomenon chosen by the authors of this article for the observations was digital influencers. Also known as digital influencers, influencers or content creators, who are people who possess the ability to suggest through their discourses the lives of other people, in making decisions on how to act, think, live, and mainly consume. These influencers use social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok) as a means of communicating with their followers and use these platforms to discuss day-to-day topics and even social agendas such as politics, feminism, racism and fatphobia. In addition, it is through their networks that they influence and encourage consumption, whether content, products or ideals.
This phenomenon was chosen by the group, because there was an interest in understanding what this new market of digital influencers is like and how these subjects can reach other people, in this case women, who consume their publications. Therefore, there was a need to answer the guide problem: What causes subjects to be susceptible to changes in their behavior such as the command of someone unknown?
Therefore, the general objective focused on the performance of digital influencers in virtual spaces and their impact on the behavior of the individuals who accompany them. As a consequence, the specific objectives have expanded in the understanding of how the influencer acts in front of his target audience; in assimilating how the influencer’s action can induce consumption processes, and understand what are the impacts on the behavior of individuals who accept or reject the contents of influencers.
Therefore, the team elaborated assumptions for three hypotheses that could be confirmed or refuted at the end of the research: digital influencers need to create and maintain concepts of happiness; they give rise to new and intense ways of exposing themselves as a consumer product, and many individuals in society are massively developing psychic illnesses, such as exacerbated narcissism due to the high need for exposure.
The central point of observation remained essentially in the phenomenon of the figure of the digital influencer. From this perspective, the team surveyed the content produced on Youtube and Instagram of six Brazilian influencers, aged 20 to 25 years and 35 to 40 years. It observed the presentations made, ways of life, subjects addressed and the comments produced by the followers and haters, mostly women.
The theoretical foundation was obtained by the analysis of the thinkers: Michel Foucault (2001; 2019), with the support of Cecília Coimbra and Maria Livia Nascimento (2001) on the principles of exclusion and judgments of the other socially. Pierre Bourdieu (2007) and Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood (2009) bring through brief support from Liliane Abreu (2013), the anthropological perspective of social patterns to explain the consumption system. This content is also magnified by the reinforcing propositions by Zygmunt Bauman (2008a; 2008b; 2009) and William Baum (2019), who discuss fears to silence (and affront) many individuals, or give voice to those who manipulate mass for hateful and alienating behaviors. Han Byung-Chul (2018) gives the understanding about the phenomenon of cancellation (term used on the Internet to exclude individuals, who present comments or attitudes considered socially offensive). Burrhus Skinner (2000), Robert Hall (1975), Márcio Moreira and Carlos Medeiros (2007), show how the processes of likes and dislikes occur. Marilena Chaui (2011; 2012; 2017) underscores the inversion of discourses, reality, and how ideological appropriation of discourses also fits into narcísic behaviors by the clinical psychoanalytic view of Sigmund Freud (1972; 2011), Jacques Lacan through Vladimir Safatle (2007) and David Zimerman (2004). As this relates and underlies the intense need for reinforcements in individuals to concretize their utopias in the contemporary virtual universe, this is what will be presented in this article.
The observations, conceptual studies and analyses to understand this contemporary social theme of the phenomenon known as digital influencers, occurred in the second semester (August to November) of 2020 as part of an academic work of the Psychology course, for the Paulista University-UNIP/SP.
Two team members were tasked with observing ten (ten for each member) posts of an influencer (cisgender women) between 20 and 25 years and interaction with their followers. Two team members were tasked with observing ten (ten for each member) posts of an influencer (cisgender women) between 35 and 40 years old and interaction with their followers. Two team members were tasked with observing five posts by an influencer (cisgender woman) between 35 and 40 years old, and five posts by an influencer (transgender woman) between 20 and 25 years old; also observing the interaction with the followers of both. Thus divided, six known influencers of digital media were observed: Gabriele Pugliese, kept the identification as G.P.; Gabriela Loran identified as G.L.; Lorrane Silva identified as L.S. (but at other times, it may appear as P.Q., by his nickname Of Pequena Lo); Ellora Haonne will be identified as E.H.; Tarine Gulusian who will be identified as T.G.; Maíra Medeiros represented by the letter M. At the time of observations and analyses, the influencers presented the following data:
Gabriela Pugliesi is a 35-year-old white, blonde, wealthy, family-like woman who was originally wealthy. She is the female influencer with a lot of virtual followers in Brazil, having a channel on Youtube (703,000 subscribers), and still acts on platforms such as Instagram (4,200,000 followers) and Facebook (111,958 followers). In the latter, she presents herself as a “digital influencer and businesswoman; debuted on social networks in 2013 (…). On his YouTube channel, he receives and interviews personalities on his show ‘Vendi Meu Sofá'”.
Gabriela Loran is a 24-year-old transsexual actress (the first trans actress on the television show Malhação). It has a Channel on Youtube (9,530 subscribers), and also operates on platforms such as Instagram (55,600 followers) and Facebook (1,586 followers).
Lorrane Silva is 24 years old. He was born with a syndrome still unknown to doctors that compromises his lower limbs. The influencer uses crutches for locomotion. It has followers on Instagram (4,300,000 followers) and the social network TikTok (more than 5 million followers). She uses her networks to treat with humor about her life and her daily difficulties.
Ellora Hoanne is 25 years old and has a YouTube channel (1,410,000 followers) and Instagram account (527,000 followers). She is the author of the book “Por todas nós: conselhos que não recebi sobre luta, amor e ser mulher”. In its networks it produces content about feminism, sexuality, relationships, self-knowledge, self-esteem, among others.
Tarine Gulusian is a 35-year-old digital influencer. Mother of three children, the first two of them from different parents and the youngest fruit of in vitro fertilization. It has a channel on Youtube (434,000 subscribers ) and Instagram (277,000 followers), where in addition to dividing his life through stories, he also carries out advertising and dissemination. She also has some smaller secondary channels and runs the Instagram page of her pajama shop, called La Bella Plume (9,193 followers).
Maíra Medeiros has a YouTube channel titled “Nunca Te Pedi Nada” (1 million subscribers). The creator of content has a degree in Advertising, has taught English for more than ten years and has been a web content editor for other creators. She started the channel by believing that topics such as female empowerment and acceptance were unspoken and deserved to be addressed. In addition, it operates on the Instagram platform (741,000 followers).
The points that were observed by each team member:
- From the influencer: how she presented herself; what he sold as a lifestyle; how he behaved and communicated; what he said as a reference of how his followers should behave, consume or what to do.
- From the followers: how they interacted; how they communicated; how they behaved; how they presented themselves; what they considered as important in their lives from this interaction with influencers.
As the group members made observations with differentiated influencers, the pair noticed three main potential highlights: 1- lifestyle (personal life, mood, lifestyle/routine); 2- current social issues (aesthetic pattern/beauty, machismo, deconstruction, hate speech); and 3 – consumption (of you, of the other, of products and advertising). It is important to point out that these points most frequently are between each other and at the same time distance from each other, in a constant dichotomy. Therefore, they needed to be seen simultaneously as independent and global aspects within the same phenomenon. Exactly for this reason, the team ended up having to subdivide into categories this initial analysis, even to sort and understand what they were coming across. Moreover, the influencers chosen did not cover a common point of content, such as all talking about the conduct (alienating) of beauty aesthetics, or politics, or any other common subject among all. Each of the digital influencers addressed different agendas, which led us to the initial question: Why do so many people follow and do what these influencers say, even though they are different? “What can these differences have in common?” and “what could unite these influencers so strongly to these followers?”
For the elaboration of this article, the group came across several dichotomous topics, but with more perceptible and constant points in the total set about subjectivity and social behaviors that were analogous. Some of these points presented themselves in the need of the subject to be seen, loved (even idolized in some cases), and recognized by self-image. Moreover, the materialization of hate speech, instantaneity and obsolescence of relationships were aspects in common, whether in influencers or in followers, functioning as a symbiosis, that is, as an emotional dependence of the other. Therefore, the observations of these different influencers triggered the perception of the three main behavioral clusters that constituted this theoretical discussion: lifestyle (personal life, mood, lifestyle/routine); current social issues (aesthetic pattern/beauty, machismo, deconstruction, hate speech); consumption (of you, of the other, of products and advertising). All, however, are independent and global aspects within the same phenomenon of accepting to be influenced by someone and not elaborating their own convictions.
Human subjectivity can be understood as a product resulting from all the experiences that one has with the world and that affect that individual. Michel Foucault (2001; 2019; apud COIMBRA; NASCIMENTO, 2001) in History of madness, understands subjectivity as a way of life. As body and mind, this subject relates to everything and everyone, raising from this, the retention, reaction and even the creation of interactions of his treatment coming from society. Therefore, the positive or negative transformations that occur in someone, arise as individual brands and related to the social environment, still reflecting in their behaviors. Foucault also points out that this sociocultural mechanism gives rise to distorted discourses and an audience that classifies, condemns and perpetuates certain institutionalized practices of degradation of those in situations of invisibility.
In this scenario, the advent of the year 2,000 (d.C.) current contemporaneity accelerated the technological potentialities that had already emerged in previous decades. With this, the internet became popular and brought with it social networks. The union of these social networks and the technological possibility of producing personal videos through mobile devices triggered the high exposure of individuals seeking the approval of so-called likes. A process like what Skinner (2000) showed in his guinea pigs interaction with the environment through stimulus and reinforcement, and that we cannot be immature in disregarding these studies, even though they are from other antagonistic lines in the psychology area itself.
The subjects are gradually modeled, to cause a new behavior response, and getting reinforcement of likes or likes. The excess of videos, mostly, but with material from various posts, including through writing – achieves the reinforcement by the immediate response, provided by the likes, thus creating a great motivation for the continuity of the production of posts. In any case, the continuity of this stimulation understood as positive promotes in emotional terms a euphoria in the subjects, making the virtual universe extremely seductive. Thus, in general, individuals may have varied emotional reactions due to the subjectivity and history of each one, going from euphoria (when they receive the likes), frustration and anger (when ignored or contradicted), and/or constant immediacy (not supporting the delay of third-party responses in interlocutions). And this extends to subjects who interact in the form of followers, especially when, for example, a celebrity speaks on video the name of someone unknown who follows him or responds in writing, because people tend to react with great emotion, demonstrating euphoria behaviors. Others who follow this event, create the expectation that the same will occur with them, constituting a consecutive gear of positive reinforcements.
According to Hall (1975), reinforcement is all that (event or stimulus consequence) that increases the strength or probability of a certain behavior repeating itself, that is, the behavior produces consequences and is controlled by them. Compliments, bonuses and other actions applied immediately after (immediately) an action that is desired, act as a reinforcement of behavior and with maximum effect. The faster and immediate the reinforcement in a desired behavior, the more effective it becomes, like the advent of likes. Moreira and Medeiros (2007) cite that natural reinforcements such as praise and admiration are extremely powerful. Thus, continuous refinement at a high frequency tends to deliberate satisfaction in the individual and the expectation of wanting more.
Digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, for example, have increasingly changed to provide greater resources in an attempt to diversify the way content can be created, leading to a longer stay of time for its members. It is important to understand that these resources are not created for no reason, but rather, they are strategies to diversify the possibilities of a company to spread its advertising, giving space and tools so that they can make it increasingly natural to spread some product or service. Moreover, this reaches a character that has emerged strongly in the last ten years: the digital influencer or influencer.
In the books The art of life and Life for consumption, Bauman (2009; 2008b) considers that to understand the dynamics of the virtual universe and its phenomena, it is first necessary to understand that there are generational structures that are influenced by the ways of life of their times, long before the manipulations of market conduct. Thus, he notes that the worldview for current people is different from the individuals of yore, because, what was important for the latter, do not have the same value for the former.
Bauman (2009) makes a comparison between generations and mentions that if the previous one had to paint a picture, it would be more meticulous, would be more careful when choosing solvents and would do so in a way that would maintain the freshness of colors for eternity. The current generation, on the other year, would seek ways to imitate the most celebrated artists; artists who no one knows which paths have followed and who live at the mercy of fate, and there is nothing that can be affirmed, for anything can happen. The facilities are fragile because it is known that they will not survive until the end of the exhibition, and in this way, others will soon emerge to make a new presentation. Therefore, the author mentions that young people are not like works of art, they are like wallpapers; therefore, they need to be constantly updated.
The philosopher also explains the fact that a lifestyle currently recommended by the market, commands the impulse to consume and behave, and this same style comes not only from a spokesperson, being paid or voluntary, but also from public people. This lifestyle can also be perceived even as a form of personal freedom, but when the person chooses to seek another form of identity, it is rejected or refused, and from there will realize how short that freedom is. The people who command such styles end up gaining a status of power , and the author compared it to administrators of a race track, where they watch the entrances, and work in parallel encouraging participants to run more and more. Moreover, he points out that only those who decide to be insubordinate know how severe the punishment is. His perception is that society was organized as a community of consumers. For this, a way was created to generate an inseparable condition of the contemporary citizen. To live in society and not be excluded from the social hierarchy, it is necessary to consume.
Still, according to the philosopher, everything is done from the manipulation and conduct of companies and professionals specialized in the universe of behavior and consumption, which include in individuals the understanding of personal safety and social belonging when they participate in a certain consumption group. Likea, they make use of certain products that refer to a lifestyle, functioning as a social totem. Bauman (2008b) evokes Douglas (DOUGLAS and ISHERWOOD, 2009) to explain that the subject at the bottom would be afraid of rejection and social exclusion, and therefore promote all material or immaterial consumption behavior.
This would occur, according to Douglas and Isherwood (2009; apud ABREU, 2013), because societies would be built by the economy of donation, a continuous cycle of giving, receiving and giving back. It is a reference to the bases of consumption that serves both industrial society and tribal societies. It defines that gifts maintain a particular pattern of social relationships, and it is this pattern of relationships that creates the demand and materials to meet a cycle, in which it is consumed to divide and share – and in the case of the Internet, literally share, feeding the system of exchange and reward, and who breaks with it, automatically is out. Therefore, the fear factor is reinforced by other authors, including Bauman himself (2008a) in other works that raise the same point on the theme. His understanding is that human fear is a modified by-product of primitive animal fear, serving as a capacity for self-propulsion and leading to silencing, and that this will be addressed again later.
This whole question regarding manipulation was widely analyzed in the observations of influencer G.P. and her followers, for she sold absolutely everything in her life context, from the way of meditating and exercising, to the tile of her bathroom. All validated by the followers who praise each video, and asked where or how to acquire such objects or moods. In parallel, sponsors establish the financing of this market so that their products are unpretentiously advertised as part of the influencer’s routine.
This marketing was also pointed out by Bauman (2008b) and it was possible to observe in the influencers analyzed. The message of constant renewal and effective demarcation of exchange time is made seasonally through the launch of the products by the brands, and even the programmed obsolescence inserted in electronic objects. Abreu (2013) also discusses this aspect, because everything is very fast, with changes created for intervals of a few months between one launch and another, and it is here to explain that these few months refer to chronological time between three months and one year, depending on what is said to change. She explains that, for example, in the world of textile fashion, every four months everything is renewed to generate new trends, while in the technological scope of mobile phones, this average has also been the same with models that present small color changes or icons for a device of the same company. Therefore, Bauman (2008b) mentions that the slowness in human relations is understood in contemporaneity as a process of social death, which would reinforce the understanding to individuals that not accompanying all this, is to be outdated and old-fashioned, making them perceive themselves excluded.
All objects and things that can be inserted as a lifestyle are purposely placed in such a way to the social subject that he believes, in general, to make the choices for himself, but without being; because this driving is done from an early age. Thus, in social networks, the current consumer logic is the influencers. Bauman (2008b) understands that in order to become an authentic member of society and thus ascend from a social position, it is necessary to raise the status of a consumer by becoming a commodity. Exactly for this reason, these subjects are disputed by brands to use their products, and thus serve as a showcase, making these opinion makers of the digital environment in their own business articles.
With social networks and influencers, new consumption habits are being allocated to the internet. As Bauman (2008b) points out, before the growth of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, malls were the meeting point between consumers and products. Currently, social media has allowed goods to be displayed through influencers. Thus, profiles like the influencer L.S., G.P. and others, mix lifestyle and consumption. This increases the market value of the products for now having a lifestyle status.
Still using as an example L.S., she is an influencer that maintains a logic of consumption that is closely linked with self-esteem and social position. As it gained new followers, it gained visibility even from brands of food consumption and sale of appliances. Her Instagram status has gone from a mere consumer profile to a profile that influences other consumers. That caused her to start making paid commercials.
The self-esteem of their followers comes into play the moment they are persuaded to buy what L.S. discloses, and in turn, they manage to get closer to their lifestyle. Not only influencers, but the internet has become fertile ground for users to convert themselves into objects of consumption, into commodities, and that is precisely what Bauman (2018b) affirmed. Moreover, the author reinforces that the consumption activity is solitary and has no lasting bonds. This fragility is common in social networks where a figure can be easily forgotten. Therefore, the influencers that are part of this characteristic serve as a showcase for this ability to persuade the consumption of products and sponsors.
As explained earlier, in the tangle of information that the team of this article collected, some groups emerged that we carefully analyzed and categorized for understanding the parts and after the whole, and the one we identified as lifestyle fits perfectly with this explanation by Bauman (2008b; 2009), since it covers themes used as content related to self-image and intimacy of influencers, like your personal life, your routine, your lifestyle and mood.
When the influencer exposes his life to the audience that assists him, he brings up the comparison, awakening in other desires for what is not had and stimulating the creation of new goals. For example, influencer E.H. by releasing a video about “what it’s like to have a healthy relationship”, in addition to dictating the pattern that should be considered healthy, it created in her followers the anguish and desire to have a relationship like hers and seen as ideal.
The figure of the virtual content creator positions himself in this way, acquiring things that many of his followers do not have a chance to have, appearing to be living the ideal of happiness. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the audience that consumes its content is deprived of living this idealized life. According to Bauman (2009), deprivation means unhappiness, affects the subjects’ self-esteem and social recognition. Therefore, in the individual’s feeling private, it is necessary to have an ideal pattern. Therefore, nowadays influencers are responsible for dictating this pattern.
The author questions what was wrong with happiness, and argues by analyzing Americans and not just them, where in their quests for happiness, they are getting richer and richer, but not happier. However, the efforts of the Americans, and not just them – to try to consume more and more to try to satisfy themselves, cause frustration when when purchasing the product or service, that emptiness does not disappear, making them consume even more, in an endless cyclical demand. Drawing a parallel with the phenomenon of this article, influencers are the sellers of these miraculous products and/or services that promise (explicitly or not) their followers, to approach the ideal, what is right and happiness.
When we ask ourselves at the beginning of the observations, why are millions of people followers of these women or so many others and other digital influencers? we entered into reflections that would never come to a totally true conclusion without the investigation of the motivation of each follower individually, their sociocultural-historical influences, their dreams. However, something in common and broader can unite these individuals. One could think of a generalist hypothesis, that they be moved by this search, so proper and eternal of humanity for happiness. That’s why so many people follow, like, comment, and share videos of these other people.
Today, in this liquid-modern society to which Bauman (2008b; 2009) refers, consumption is not only in products, but also in ideas, profiles and lifestyles. To the point that the life of a specific person, such as the digital influencer, can arouse curiosity, idealization and inspiration in millions of people. Influencers can be seen as something closer to happiness and for which their followers, liquid-modern consumers, seek. That’s why their clothes, positioning, food and even everyday life become paths to be observed, admired and often copied.
Bauman (2009) says that the energy of happiness desire can be divided into two types of forces: centripetal (from outside to center) or centrifuge (from center to outside). Thus, for the author, the search for happiness can be summarized in the concern for the individual’s own well-being, or, in view of his concern for the well-being of the other. The two alternatives, however, are not necessarily contradictory – they can work together with neither or almost no conflict. However, if there is a correlated relationship, it is that of centrifugal force towards centripetal force, where being good with the other reinforces the feeling of being well with you.
Thus, it was observed by the team of this article that constantly the figure of the digital influencer dictates not only a product or service to be acquired, but also behaviors that should or should not be maintained for their followers to be happy. This issue is present in the female staves and aesthetic standards, such as cutting or not cutting the hair, maintaining a constant hair removal or reducing it, among other subjects. That way it’s possible that something that never bothers a person, after watching a video on Youtube or seeing a post on Instagram, will bother them.
In social networks, the I and lifestyle become the center, the product and the producer of entertainment, idealization and projection for consumers. Describe, capture and film their routines; as to what time they wake up, eat lunch, what they eat, drink, what they wear, what are the brands, what are the prices, where they go, what they believe, religions, with whom they date, with whom they live, fights, conflicts, conquests, joys… Everything that goes on in the life of an influencer, is disseminated, visualized, shared, commented, as if the followers watched a movie or novel and could follow the character all the time. An open narcísico process, and sometimes without restrictions on the part of influencers. And consequently, followers want to repeat this behavior of continuous and exacerbated exposure.
Christopher Lasch is cited by Bauman (2009) as an expert in the behavior of these new narcissists. They would be people who, when confronted with their internal anxieties, revert this into behavior of seduction to obtain attention and applause, and that in the specific case of influencers, the mechanism is conditioned to the likes and comments of the followers. This process would be indispensable for the narcissist to sustain his extremely insecure self, according to the author. It is interesting to see how this concept fits with this new profession of influencers and that continues in constant growth. Someone who decides to simply share edited fragments of their daily lives and receive daily interactions with individuals from different places in the world who can follow, identify themselves and crave that particular lifestyle that is being sold as ideal.
Freud (1972; 2011), Lacan (SAFATLE, 2007) and Zimerman (2004) state that within a certain degree, humanity is narcissistic, but certain individuals exceed normality levels, thus entering clinical narcissism (that is, pathological). In these cases, Zimerman explains that this individual carries a very low self-esteem, for shames, failures and humiliations, and tries to hide it socially through the primordial presentation of economic and /or social status, as well as, begins to have his life in denial of reality and in constant defensive attitude.
There is a possessive, arrogant, selfish, authoritarian subject with an intolerance to frustration and criticism, and commonly repulses aging, disease or death. Moreover, in addition to carrying a destructive envy (including veiled) and opposition to the hierarchy (because it must be the center of attention and command), the narcissist provokes situations to conquer subjects and praise their own qualities (often nonexistent and created utopically as a defense mechanism). But in return, it disparages, attacks and despises (physically, intellectually and/or professionally) all those who are not considered similar (or generate the feeling of threat). It should be noted that the narcissist actually disqualifies all those who are somehow effectively considered more than him, and therefore there is a need to always present himself at the top of the pyramid.
The team observed a constancy of accounts of the personal lives of these influencers, as well as their lifestyles and routines. The reports about their personal lives appear together with narratives of experiences that are related to themes that cause greater repercussion and engagement in social networks, such as cutting the hair very short, and the intrinsic relationship of the hair with the appearance, beauty and femininity of the woman.
In these daily lives, the days were always presented as run, but lifestyles are dichotomically suggested as positive and optimistic, not taking into account the privileges that some people have and that facilitate certain routines and habits perceived socially as healthier, lighter and happier:
In the middle of the video, out of nowhere, she appears being filmed (possibly by her husband) doing yoga exercises. Those who film make a point of showing “G.P.” all the time, but moving in such a way that it reveals the entire extremely spacious environment of the double room of the couple’s residence. (Team notes, 2020)
The use of humor was also a strategy used by one of the influential factors observed to tell about her routine in a more dynamic and attractive way to her followers:
On 09/24/2020, “P.Q.” appeared for the first time in a video with the caption: “me, shameless, walking into the mall pharmacy just to weigh myself”. Wearing an orange T-shirt and using her crutches, she appears inside a pharmacy, smiling and waving at the camera, as she walks to a scale. Her followers’ comments are from people telling what they do when they’re in that situation and pharmacy workers reporting about customers who have similar attitudes. (Team notes, 2020)
The sale of self-image full of happiness, time, and sometimes money creates a very peculiar sentence. Each influencer articulates differently, but draws attention to himself in a determined and powerful aspect. Alain Ehrenberg (apud BAUMAN, 2008b, p. 121-122) explains that “the most common human sufferings nowadays tend to develop from an excess of possibilities, and not from a profusion of prohibitions, as occurred in the past”. According to this author, expressions such as having time, lacking time and gaining time are absorbed by society causing wear and anxiety, especially if the subject is unable to achieve the purpose. Bauman (2008b) adds that this would establish itself as a complex of inadequacy that reflects all this affliction of liquid-modern life. Thus, failure would also be intrinsically linked to not having time, and not just to not having money.
This statement leads directly to G.P., who sold to his followers the union of these two powerful strands. It featured a high-status lifestyle – including showing, for example, expensive parties and international paradisiacal travel – and a vast menu of time to do absolutely everything she wanted, but that a common and salaried, professional, working and/or study adult, and as organized as it is, would not be able in real terms to do so many things and smile every day of the year. She effectively sold the perception that she was extremely happy because she did all that. In fact, she also stated that she was very blessed, making a point of repeating this all the time when presenting her achievements or (expensive) objects that were bought or presented, but which were supposed to be gifts from God as an award for pronouncing the word gratitude at all times, and, of course, trivializing the term.In parallel, she put herself in competition with other people, because each time she had more possessions and achievements and therefore was much happier. If someone wanted to be the same, they would need to imitate it, but still, they would not be able to reach it. Thus, the influencer maintained the feeling of inadequacy of her followers, if they could not do any of the things she proposed. At the same time, she could renew her constant pleasure and feeling of living intensely. It is this maintenance of the satisfaction process that creates constant needs in an endless cycle of consumption, and with the path that the subjects will be nothing without it.
Bauman (2018b) points to an unprecedented severity in this almost perpetual gear, because the insatisfations in the face of what is previous would become so high, that this would justify, for example, the numerous cases of plastic surgeries in individuals who destroy their self-image in the face of the frustration of never being sufficiently satisfied with the previous intervention. It becomes an unceasing search for an emptiness that is never filled, and this occurs in all areas, not just with surgeries. This misplaced behavior has been widely encouraged by digital influencers, who present beauty and health tips (without foundation), such as G.P. made every video.
It is interesting to analyze from this point of view, because it was possible to compare the Influencers G.L. and G.P. This second was characterized as the digital influencer of the female sex with more followers in Brazil, even speaking and leading its connoisseurs to the absurd practices that it indicated, with a direct risk to mental and physical health damage. Moreover, with extremely futile and immature presentations, G.P. She spent all her time displaying the image of a happy and blessed person (as already mentioned), having everything she wanted in life and for one reason only: she thanked God very much every day.
Note that while G.L. (a transsexual influencer) received direct or indirect offenses and threats, just because she was a transgender woman – and with content based on balance and constant counseling of medical and psychological follow-up to followers –, G.P. was praised as a wonderful person, even proposing to people recipes to cure depression like this:
Did you wake up half down? Get that out of your head! If you stretch, thank you, leave the house, go do things you like with your friends, friends, okay?! Every day you wake up, you have to say, “A regra do dia: ‘ser feliz e ser uma pessoa melhor’”. Guys, do you have any idea how fast life goes by? (01:03 / 01:17. Video transcript excerpt). (Team notes, 2020)
From this behavior, her followers embraced the following discourses for the supposed reach of spiritual and physical balance, even though she presented the dichotomy of the ostentation of parallel wealth. At the same time, the influencer G.P. showed her followers that she had haters, who – according to her – pursued and attacked her for no reason, after all, she was a greatly blessed person. Writing this exact paragraph in this article, the reader may understand that it is only an exaggeration of writing, but not; were the words of the influencer herself in several videos. This was evident all the time, and much more than any other of the influenced ones observed, which denotes an extremely manipulative speech reversal.
This speech reversal is explained by Chaui (2011; 2012; 2017) as ideological. Ideology functions as a concealment of social relations, leaving something in a veiled plane, besides that, it is an inversion of reality. The idea is taken and reality is reversed from the very idea to blame the other and hide relationships, this inversion of discourse comes from the ruling classes that create stereotypes in order to hide the links of domination and exploitation. Thus, the individual takes the value of the other and brings to himself the legitimation of the idea of others as his own, and, moreover, with all kinds of distortion. G.P. did this all the time, and still aggregated a narcísic conduct.
Understanding this whole narcísico process, and comparing it to what the team could see in G.P. and even in influencer T.G., who sells the image of strong woman and mother, but keeps control of followers using small children, as a suffering mother and feeding hate speech to men, and exposing a sick nephew. In T.G.’s case, self-promotion using third parties is very palpable, and again, both she and G.P. lead to the universe of ideological discourse.
Fatidly, everything is being entertained and composing what the team of this article understands as the category of current social issues, which reinforces all this previous theme of aesthetic pattern and current beauty, of machismo in society, and, the process of social and cultural deconstruction. Describing more precisely, one can even include the increasingly perceptible and glaring hate speeches that come out of the virtual universe and reach the physical.
It is worth starting here the analysis on the theme of haters already mentioned above. They are people who follow the influencer’s posts not because they admire you, but rather waiting for any failure to point out and encourage hate speech.
By preaching a perfect life, the human being is completely left out, who as such makes mistakes and successes, and the influencer can become more susceptible to these actions. Therefore, on the Internet there is no room for the subject to err, because if this occurs, the cancellation is ready to be made. At this point, one can return to the theme of fears that comprise the theme of cancellation, and briefly mentioned previously. Certain real and perceptible fears would be silenced through ideological inversions, such as the conception of the “loser or victor”, for example. This standardization of many fictitious fears and discredit of other real ones, would be a socially created device to make fear into something tolerable and even repressible in the face of imminent danger.
In turn, Baum (2019) corroborates that fear is transmitted and is part of a past cultural evolution from individual to individual. This generates people with power and the place of dominator who controls other individuals emerges, which is why it becomes so easy to command the cancellation coming directly from the influencer. He dictates what may be wrong, creating a sense of anger in his followers, and, at the same time, of fear for his own integrity. Note that it is quite different from social individuals who come to the conclusion by themselves, from ending the business relationship or admiration to someone, in the face of the discovery of that person being part of some kind of scandal that can generate harm to others, and this has been effected quite recently as a social group movement. This is reinforced by Byung-Chul (2018), which presents two succinct excerpts that explain well the phenomenon of cancellation. In the first excerpt, the author talks about how the power of discourse works in the form of communication:
O poder como meio de comunicação consiste em, tendo em vista a possibilidade do Não, aumentar a probabilidade do Sim. O Não é sempre alto. A comunicação de poder reduz consideravelmente o ruído e o barulho, ou seja, a entropia comunicativa. Assim, a palavra de poder elimina repentinamente o barulho que se infla. Ele produz um silêncio, a saber, o espaço para ações. (BYUNG-CHUL, 2018, p. 11)
In another passage, he talks about the society of indignation, which is practically the culture of cancellation, and how ephemeral it ends up being ephemeral.
As ondas de indignação são eficientes em mobilizar e compactar a atenção. Por causa de sua fluidez e volatilidade elas não são, porém, apropriadas para organizar o discurso público, a esfera pública. Elas são incontroláveis, incalculáveis, inconstantes, efêmeras e amorfas demais para tanto. Elas se inflam repentinamente e se desfazem de maneira igualmente rápida. (BYUNG-CHUL, 2018, p. 15)
This is analogous to fear in the face of evil to which a person may be targeted. Bauman (2008a) classifies as evil, the inability to decipher or explain socially broken rules. He explains that this thought is of ancestral origin in religions and based on the punishment of those who have failed such conduct, being punished for their sinful actions. That is, people who were outside the perfect social standard and even commonly who were offending God in some way could suffer extremely offensive hater attacks. These haters, guided by the influencer’s power figure, understand that they have been authorized to attack those who threaten the image or integrity of this idealized persona.
As new as the digital influencer profession, it has already generated negative consequences for many of these subjects, except economically, and for people who consume their content. The constant search for legitimacy, for more success, by a greater number of followers, for the burden of reproducing and affirming the standard of beauty or criticizing it, are constantly just some of the problems faced by a content creator. Platforms charge constancy from their influencers; you need to post every day and diversify the tools if you want your profile to have reach. But many creators have expressed their displeasure with the demands of algorithms.
Really when talking about internet and social networks everything seems fleeting and extreme, because the subject likes a publication and gives a like, or does not like and gives a dislike; either like an influencer or it’s hater; then apparently there’s no middle ground. This behavior also presents people who attack even other influencers with activist agendas, as was the case of the transfeminist (so she calls herself), G.L. To remain virtually relevant, an influencer needs to be within what is expected by her target audience. Today, what some people want to hear, discuss and share is information about causes and social problems, but of course, this is not a rule. It is important to note that for all of these involved, what matters is talking about the issues, and not necessarily having a correct or true positioning, and this is the big problem that many of these influencers propagate.
The influencers in some of the videos analyzed by the group of this article, talk about how to lose weight, as well as their skin, hair and body care routines. The tips and information are given in the form of advice or personal experiences of each one, even without any influence having been disclosed in their social networks, academic formations in the areas of health (mental, physical and /or aesthetic). Another influencer speaks precisely of how difficult it is to achieve these standards of beauty and aesthetics and how this can influence other women not to accept themselves as they are.
Machismo is another constant theme in the productions of influencers, either exemplifying situations experienced by these women in their own relationships, or talking about how to recognize these macho attitudes in society.
Another theme explored by influencers is personal deconstruction. This is linked to the recognition of machismo, racism, LGBTphobia, fatphobia, among other prejudices and stereotypes rooted in society and in the processes of deconstruction of individual and social behaviors and positions in the day to day. In the videos and posts, it is emphasized that deconstruction is a process, and so all the time needs to be revisited and have a close look at it. In addition, it can take years to realize and detach from a stereotype or prejudice.
Nowadays, talking in social networks about large agendas and some behaviors, ends up taking a dimension that enters social issues, and that have gained in recent decades the attention of consumers of content, products and services. Here, one can bring Bourdieu (2007), since this author considers that, in general, the advent of consumerism generated the refinement of social standardization and excluding all those who do not follow these models that were once coercive, but are now presented as choices. Bauman (2008b) adds that the novelty before the ephemeral overcame the value of permanence, which is directly reflected in the human relations of the new millennium. The need to have everything in the hands and frantically precipitates the disposal of the inanimate object even faster and is transferred to the human factor, generating the removal of the other as an equal disposable garbage, that is, the exclusion of the other becomes very easy.
This immediacy is shown in people’s impatience in the face of the slightest failure of the other individual, however small, forgetting all the other positive values that this person may have. At this point, the author relates this to the search for happiness, since if the subject has everything he wants, he cannot be happy, then this would be seen socially as the guilt being entirely his. Therefore, being emancipated to have, speak and do everything you want, would be on the threshold of ostentation to show that you are happy, and without it, the subject would be totally defeated. According to Bauman (2008b), then would come the need for the individual to show at all times that he has objects (or status) and that he is happy, even without being or having. The loss of any of these factors leads to the collapse of self-esteem in the face of the perception of social humiliation.
Nicole Aubert (apud BAUMAN, 2008b, p. 120-121) suggests that today’s societies are in a state of emergency. This is revealed in the constant maintenance of intense feeling of urgency through the social need to have something, and thus creates a continuous flow of alertness and anxiety, and changing as illusory by having these feelings dissipated and understood as relief when the subject can consume. This process produces another effect: individuals become intolerant and frustrated when they cannot be satisfied immediately or in the expected time.
Bauman (2008b) also mentions the loss of each person’s original identity, and that if it were not enough in the face of visual and behavioral standardization, societies are also being led to ignore face-to-face contact relationships. This has been intensified through the technological processes of everything around us, since many of the individual actions, such as shopping or solving problems in the bank, can be done autonomously and without the help of another person. Thus, the subjects follow and give more importance to what is presented as a model of the future, because again, the past does not matter. The author evokes Elzbieta Tarkowska (apud BAUMAN, 2018b), who developed the concept of synchronous human beings, living only from the present, inconsequential and without the need for bonds with others. Therefore, the human relationships of these individuals become all fragile, superficial and solitary in the face-to-face sphere.
In the course of the analysis, the category that the team of this article classified as consumption contains the themes of advertisements and advertisements during the videos and posts of influencers. However, as the previous paragraphs demonstrated, the issue of consumer society goes far beyond the acquisition of the material object. Today, social networks are used not only for interactions, but also for this widespread consumption.
Effectively, ads and advertisements are perceived in large quantities on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and other platforms. This incentive to consumerism can occur directly as a five-second ad that appears before the influencers’ video and cannot be skipped. However, the most widely used technique among companies is to rely on the image and communication power of digital influencers. Therefore, the most observed behavior was to encourage consumption through advertising for brands and services, which is directly or indirectly in the content of the influencers. Thus, there is a perception that those who consume what social networks propagate, grow at hierarchical levels in society. Therefore, Bauman (2008b) considers that the main factor of current stratification is consumption, and this is responsible for guiding the distribution of consideration and social exclusion. Thus, the public is called to give voice to those who have a high power of consumption, often because they want to identify and consume themselves as well as that figure of authority.
The Influencer L.S. (known as P.Q.) they are often discreet about their drinking habits, but they are frequent topics in their posts on the social network Instagram. A video posted on September 26, 2020 shows the influencer indicating which type of consumption you prefer. Instead of buying a blouse, she indicates that she prefers to spend on eating habits. Although it is essential for human survival, food has also become a way to consume and propagate a lifestyle. When L.S. shows how you spend your money, influence your viewers to consume in the same way and integrate the same types of meals into your eating habits.
L.S., like other observed influencers – potentially including influencer G.P. –, goes against bauman thought (2008b) when it promotes and encourages a consumerist lifestyle. Its positioning strategy follows a line of existence through consumption.
Bauman (2008b) considers that social subjects who are not attached to this logic of consumption are socially excluded, because they are not perceived as individuals capable of maintaining a consumer society, and, thus, are not considered valid for governments and industries. The author also indicates that through compulsory therapies and even punishment, the market requires that those excluded be put back into the logic of consumption to continue feeding this gear. Therefore, the incentive to consume through advertising can happen in a subtle way, using the image and communication power of the influencers to convey the message and sell the product or service that is not always directly connected with the content produced by them. Another means of using images and the power to influence the followers of digital content producers are direct advertising.
A tool that “P.Q.” frequently uses to reach her audience of 1 million followers is the Stories present on Instagram. The first post in stories on 09/20/2020 was an advertisement for a restaurant called “XXX”. She recorded a short five-second video with the products of this establishment and tagged the brand’s Instagram. The video, although short, causes a feeling of desire in the audience that watches it (and this was reported in the many comments), which makes the restaurant gain more followers and customers. (Team notes, 2020)
When advertising is not for third parties, the focus of encouraging consumption turns to the influencers themselves and their products and services:
(…) On the right side there is another smaller plant and a kind of stool, some visible copies of the book written by “M.”, entitled “XXX”. In the center is “M.”, seated, leaning on a kind of white bench or table. (…) Throughout the video, “M.” self-reference frequently, indicating and citing four other videos, showing where they can be accessed, as a way of “pulling” the audience that is watching the video used in this report to other videos from the same channel. (Team notes, 2020)
Another very important point brought by Bauman (2008b, p. 117) and which fits into the previous paragraphs, is in what he calls wars of recognition. There, the ground of legitimation is configured where the principle of reality and the principle of pleasure would oscillate, and the subject would have to decide whether he would be ready to sacrifice his own well-being to the detriment of fulfilling moral responsibilities to others. However, Abreu (2013) reinforces that there would be a constant escape from this process, because the hedonistic understanding would be much more evidenced by the perception of the self I deserve that is referenced by Douglas and Isherwood (2009).
Bauman (2008b) perceives as something disturbing this relationship of trust with unknown people in the virtual network. However, the consumer/user feels confident even by the safety devices and the possibility of immediate communication cutting if desired. But this is also part of this new universe of consumerist culture, since the person again can quickly discard what does not please him, and again, he has the possibility to create and maintain various illusions.
In this way, the author prospects that all this alienating and impatience conduct becomes permanent. This need for virtual social acceptance would be far from diminishing or ending, because, according to Francis Jauréguiberry (apud BAUMAN, 2008b), internet users can experience new and differentiated suss and be protected from disappointments and punishments behind virtuality. Thus, most users represent unreal personalities, with unreal lives, which serve as an incentive to others to follow this project of utopian existence. Moreover, the suffering in the face-to-face losses becomes null or greatly diminished, and again human relations revert to a disposable object structure in the virtual universe. No risk.
Observing and analyzing all the material collected by the research group of this article, it was possible to agree with Bauman (2008b) that virtual socialization with regard to interactions between influencers and their followers, is oriented by marketing, and thus everything would be part of a logistics designed for social control and with market objective.
The author still graces with the final thought that life does not give remedies to dilemmas and the human being is not born with answers, because each one lives in the midst of uncertainties and no one is free of this situation, as well as, everyone runs the risk of failure and being disappointed at some point. Bauman (2009) adds that when searching for a more dignified, satisfying and happier life, it is inevitable to escape through uncertainty and errors, relying only on a guide, a star that can lead to this level. However, it must not be forgotten that it is a personal choice of each one, the decision to allow to be guided. Thus, what the team achieved to end this intersection of observations with Bauman’s studies, is that the phenomenon of social networks and the Internet has no return, and is part of a social and futuristic movement.
Influencers have an amazing tool that can be used positively as a means of education, activism, and inspiration for new social thinking. However, the manipulation of the market to control the society that seeks a mounted happiness, together with a series of factors, including the fear of exclusion, and precisely because each subject does not know who he is, leads the user/follower to remain in this process. illusory choices that are not his, and often futile, distorted and even dangerous. But yes, the decision is entirely individual, as each one can make their final choice.
4. FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
In general, as psychology students, this article favored our perspective on the elaboration of the subjects’ sufferings and behaviors in the search for themselves and the other specifically in the virtual universe, but which materialize in physical and everyday social spaces.
The initial guide question: What causes subjects to be susceptible to changes in their behavior such as the command of someone unknown? It was answered since the team understood how the market of digital influencers works, and how these people lead their followers to remain interconnected and accept the commands of someone unknown.
Digital influencers actually impact the behavior of the individuals who follow them, and can alter the consumption processes of this target audience. Our hypotheses have also been confirmed, and these influencers are in fact often advised by companies interested in investing, projecting a greater rise in the face of the large number of followers, and who can visualize and consume such products and lifestyles. The higher the projection of the influencer and with more companies offering support, the more advised by marketing professionals they become, being further assisted in the creation and maintenance of content that dictates the concepts of what is happiness.
Moreover, influencers effectively give rise to intense personal exposure, becoming the main consumer product, thus generating the desire in those who follow them to do the same: to be the next targets of success. Soon, there are many other exacerbated behaviors of narcissism by the unknown population, but which yearn for the same high exposure and public recognition. Therefore, when an individual of the target audience identifies with a certain influencer, and even desiring to be what it is or to have what it presents as success, this subject will accept and consume what is offered to him.
Many digital influencers, their followers and even haters would be symbiosised with three main points of fostering each individual’s psyche and designed for groups: narcissism, fear of exclusion and invisibility, and the search for happiness. On the other hand, it was possible to detect that other influencers try to use this tool that can be extraordinary, producing information of social addition in a useful and positive way. Therefore, there is the understanding that each individual acts and reacts according to his understanding of life, relying on what is identified and even on the very choices that almost everyone is able to make.
The team believes that performing all the data collection and analysis processes of this study revealed some current relationships of how many of the common people expose themselves on the Internet and make use of social networks, since they mirror and envision this place of visibility of influencers. The experience also showed the value of contemplation of the bonds between people, even in the virtual. By analyzing different influencers with different content, the group realized that despite the desire to have a supposed truth and a certain content to be consumed, each individual has their conflicts, desires and projections, and that they are personal of each one and difficult to intervene in social networks.
With this the team understood that the psychology professional needs not only to be attentive and truly knowing how to listen, but to understand and understand what is not said. Likewise, it must be willing to considerably expand its knowledge, in order to add a more consistent and developed view of the historical context of individuals. Thus, contemporary challenges must be constantly rethought and reevaluated, leading to continuous questioning about the socio behavioral changes that occur increasingly rapidly, at the speed of pushing a button.
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 Specialist in Pedagogical Neuroscience at AVM Educacional/UCAM/RJ; specialist in Art Therapy in Education and Health at AVM Educacional/UCAM/RJ; specialist in Behavior and Consumption Research at SENAI CETIQT RJ; specialist in Visual Arts at UNESA/RJ; bachelor’s degree in Design from SENAI CETIQT RJ College. Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
 Bachelor’s degree in Social Communication from Casper Libero College/SP. Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
 Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
 Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
 Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
 Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UNIP/SP.
Submitted: July, 2021.
Approved: January, 2022.