Narcissistic individuals are characterized by a positive and exaggerated view of themselves, including their physical attractiveness and importance. The rapid rise of the availability of social media can offer a platform to engage in narcissistic behaviors. But are these social media sites, like Facebook, creating narcissists?
To date, there have been conflicting views. On the one hand, research suggests that college students who scored higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory listed more Facebook friends (1). This pattern fits with the reported high rate of social extraversion, with bonds that typically lack warmth or strong emotion, in narcissists. However, other research suggests that time spent on social networking sites was not related to narcissistic tendencies (2).
In our study, we recruited over 400 college students and asked them to report the following:
- Facebook usage – time spent on Facebook (hours per day) and the number of friends
- Facebook profile – how regularly they changed it, and rated their profile picture against the following criteria—physically attractive, cool, glamorous, and fashionable.
- Facebook activities – frequency of playing games, sharing links, sending private messages, and posting, viewing, or commenting on photos or videos.
We also gave them the Narcissistic Personality Inventory-16, where they had to choose between statements that best described them. For example, they had to decide between “I like to be the center of attention” or “I prefer to blend in with the crowd”.
So Is Facebook Creating Narcissists?
- Facebook usage – No link between time spent on Facebook (hours per day) or the number of friends and narcissism.
- Facebook profile – No link with how often they changed their profile picture and narcissism. However, profile picture ratings predicted narcissism scores for both males and females. Narcissistic individuals are characterized by a positive and exaggerated view of themselves, especially with characteristics concerning their physical attractiveness. The profile picture is the most physical aspect of a user’s online self-presentation. Facebook manages a users’ attention directly by reporting changes, and therefore being very effective at increasing the spotlight on the user. Narcissistic individuals, therefore, may use this tool to direct attention to them.
- Facebook activities – No link with how often they played games, shared links or sent private messages and narcissism. However, commenting and viewing photos was significantly related to narcissism scores for both males and females. As the Facebook News Feed provides notifications for comments on photos, as well as status updates and links shared, the attention received may be a key factor for why these activities are linked to narcissism.
What is the take home? While some aspects of Facebook was linked to narcissistic tendencies, such as self-promotion, other aspects of social networking sites are used for staying connected.
Watch my TEDx talk on Social Media, Narcissism, Empathy, and Memory.
Link to the primary paper
Alloway, T.P., Runac, R., Kemp, G., & Qureshi, M. (2014). Is Facebook making us selfish? The relationship between narcissism, empathy and social networking. Social Networking, 3, 150-158. http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=45214&utm_campaign=NEWSPAPER2&utm_source=e_cp&utm_medium=sn_20140624_zhaoshu%23.U7Z8IhZZHHM
- Buffardi LE, Campbell WK. Narcissism and social networking Web sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2008; 34:1303–14.
- Bergman SM, Fearrington ME ,Davenport SW, Bergman JZ. Millennials narcissism and social networking: What narcissists do on social networking sites and why. Personality and Individual Differences 2011; 50:706–711.
Tracy Packiam Alloway (www.tracyalloway.com) is a TEDx speaker and an award-winning Psychologist. Tracy’s research has contributed to scientific understanding of working memory and specifically in relation to education and learning needs. She has shared her research to national organizations, such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and as well as internationally to organizations such as the Japanese Society for Developmental Psychology and the Center on Research on Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk in Germany, among others. She also provided advice to the World Bank on the impact of memory and learning in deprived populations. In addition to over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, 7 books, and 2 standardized test batteries on the topic of working memory, her work has also been featured on Good Morning America, the Today Show, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and Newsweek, and many others. She blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.