Malleability in Mediated Ideals

Project MIMIc: A project to understand the role of media in boys’ and girls’ lives, 2020-2025

ERC interview by Prof. Laura Vandenbosch

“Do young people mimic the lifestyles they encounter on their social media feed and in entertainment fiction?” is at the core of the research conducted by the MIMIc team in Belgium, France and Slovenia across more than 2500 adolescents. The project studies so-called “malleable ideals”, namely ideals presented in the content of adolescents’ social media feed and entertainment products such as music lyrics and TV-series. This content is defined as “malleable” because presented as within reach to anyone committed enough in their pursuit. This refers for example to appearance ideals, to school and professional aspirations, to popularity with peers, and to success in love. To build this knowledge, we are conducting various types of studies.

In a first set of studies, we analysed the content of entertainment media, present in popular music, in the social media posts of celebrities and influencers. In this research, we analysed the content of 4117 popular music lyrics and found that artists tend to showcase their luxurious lifestyles, such as showing their expensive cars, and to depict how hard they work to obtain such expensive goods. Moreover, we found that celebrities, influencers and athletes share the political content they care about, and portray the (moral) values they find important in life. These values often revolve around caring for and being loyal to their loved ones, achieving many successes and engaging in fun activities.

In a second set of analyses, we also surveyed the content that is popular among adolescents bios and recent posts on three social media platforms, namely Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. Looking at the representations of malleable ideals within this content, we found that success was often idealized in terms of being pretty or having a nice life (32,64% in bio-pics and 58,40% in most recent posts). In the creation of these ideals, youths tend to emphasize how fun someone’s life is. We also found national differences. Slovenian youths stressed being pretty in their bio-pics more often than Belgian youths, who in turn, did this more often than French youths. Slovenian youths also stressed being pretty in their most recent post more often than French youths, who in turn, did this more often than Belgian ones.

In a third set of analyses, we followed a group of 405 youngsters in Belgium, 415 in France, and 560 in Slovenia aged 12 to 18. By surveying their activities over the course of 1 year, these studies aim to see how adolescents grow-up in a mediated world. Subsequently, we followed the social media activities of adolescents in Belgium, France, and Slovenia to more closely monitor their online behaviors on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. The analyses for these studies are still ongoing, and their results will be posted as soon as they are published in academic journals.

Finally, we will soon conduct a new study in October 2023 where we will be monitoring youngsters through daily surveys to better understand their day-to-day interactions with social and entertainment media.

To find out more about the research, READ more details in the parents and participants’ section.

Meet the Group



Laura Vandenbosch

Associate professor at the School for Mass Communication Research

International collaborators


Kaitlin Fitzgerald

Post-doctoral researcher


Bojana Lobe

Associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences (U of Ljubljana)


Caroline Giraudeau

Lecturer at the Department of Psychology (U of Tours)


Kristina Rakinić

PhD student


Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium School for Mass Communication Research (SMCR).
Université de Tours, France Department of Psychology.
Univerza v Ljubljani, Slovenia Faculty of Social Sciences.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 852317)