How many times a day do you check Facebook? How does it affect your day if no one notices or responds to your latest “enhanced” selfie? Did your last dinner plate posting garner enough likes? and the last time you posted a sad face did you get enough people responding “Are you OK hun ? Come to that, how many personality test results have you posted to your profile and have you taken to verbal diarrhoea on twitter every day rather than just impotent shouting at the TV or radio ? Lastly, do you frequently ignore conversations with people in the same room as you to browse social media? If this is how you often behave, it could mean you are being narcissistic.
Before you start to panic, you are not alone. Social media usage might be an indicator of serious narcissism but on the other hand, is it just about the way society works nowadays and how can you tell the difference? Recent academic research is beginning to suggest that the way we use our social media accounts could give insights into pathological rather than healthy narcissistic self-regard. And the evidence, some say, comes right from some of those at the top.
Since late January 2017 the social networking habits of the Whitehouse have repeatedly caused a stir in the world’s media. And if one chooses to look kindly on this change it could be suggested that POTUS is “on trend” with over 75% of adults who use the internet having an online persona on social media with Facebook and Twitter being used by 80% and 25% of social media users respectively.
The Research Evidence
There is growing evidence that how we use our social media can say a lot about unhealthy narcissistic tendencies. Now, whilst a healthy narcissistic self-regard is essential for good mental health – it equates to being self-confident, appropriate assertiveness and an ability to honestly evaluate one’s needs – narcissistic self-regard can also be pathological and there are two elements of narcissism which are displayed amongst some social media users.
In a 2012 study, researchers at the university of Western Illinois studied the Facebook habits of almost 300 people aged from 16 to 65 and found that some people showed two clear narcissistic traits: grandiose exhibitionism and high entitlement/exploitative. Grandiose exhibitionism manifests as a need for attention, an inability to be ignored and grabbing opportunities for self-promotion. Entitlement and exploitation manifests as a belief in one’s own superiority and belief that respect from others is due without it necessarily being earned combined with a willingness to use other people in obtaining it.
In every day terms, this could be shown in any number of ways but particularly by excessive selfie posting, boastful and exaggerated posts about accomplishments and even “unfriending” people who have the audacity to disagree with you or worse, ignore you! Chris Carpenter who did the research study asked people to complete personality inventories and found a correlation between these behaviours and narcissistic tendencies of Grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement and those people addictively attached to Facebook and also their aggressive behaviour towards so called “friends”.
What is more some researchers have suggested that far from being a leisure activity, Facebook and Twitter can become an addiction for those with narcissistic tendencies. In a 2017 Norwegian study suggested that this was the case and even identifiend those most at risk of the addiction. Women, apparently were more prone to this type of narcissistic behaviour than men. Results demonstrated that lower age, being a woman, not being in a relationship, being a student, lower education, lower income, lower self-esteem, and narcissism were associated with higher scores which were associated with negative personality traits including narcissism.
Nor is this study alone. In 2013 Elliot Panek and his colleagues did a comparative study looking at how use of Twitter and Facebook might show different aspects of Narcissism. Panek suggested Facebook serves narcissistic adults as a mirror.
“It’s about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image,” he said. “Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles.”
Whilst he offered an opinion about narcissistic college students’ use of Twitter:
“Young people may over evaluate the importance of their own opinions,” Panek said.
“Through Twitter, they’re trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.”
Almost 500 people of all ages were involved in the survey and Panek et all concluded that the study showed that narcissistic college students and their adult counterparts used social media to boost their egos and control others’ perceptions of them.
The main limitation is that all of these studies were correlational and they could not prove that there was indeed a causal link between Facebook, Twitter and other social media usage and the narcissistic behaviour of those using it. So the question remains if you see narcissistic behaviour in your use of Facebook and social media and your behaviour towards your “friends” would you have behaved that way without social media? or has SM given us license to behave in a way we would have done anyway but exposed it to public scrutiny?
The jury is out, but I suspect you will have your own ideas, my selfie-ready, gluttonous attention-seeking Facebook Friends.
- Carpenter C, “Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior,” the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 52, issue 4 (March 2012), p. 482-486,
- Cecilie Schou Andreassen et al: The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey Addictive Behaviors 64 (2017) 287–293
- Elliot T. Panek, Yioryos Nardis, Sara Konrath. Mirror or Megaphone?: How relationships between narcissism and social networking site use differ on Facebook and Twitter. Computers in Human Behavior, 2013; 29 (5): 2004