It probably comes as no surprise to you, but society appears to have become more self-focused and more tuned in to “me” time. This is certainly made obvious by the minute to minute updates posted on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.
Social media minded and tech-savvy “millennials” are the most narcissistic generation on record; the prevalence of young adults being diagnosed with narcissism continues to rise. This is the era of me-focused social media; people check their pages or sites multiple times a day from their laptop, smart phone or other mobile devices.
According to Jessica Benjamin (2000; “The Oedipal Riddle”), the era of the Oedipal complex has been replaced by the era of narcissism. She states:
“According to recent cultural criticism, Narcissus has replaced Oedipus as the myth of our time. Narcissism is now seen to be at the root of everything from the ill-fated romance with violent revolution to the enthralled mass consumption of state-of-the-art products and the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous.”
In the age of consumerism and self-absorption, alarms are going off in the media that our society is increasingly becoming more narcissistic. Not unexpectedly, ‘popular culture’ is being blamed, from reality TV shows to social networking sites. Facebook, in particular, has come under attack as fanning the fire of narcissism.
Facebook is the largest social networking site and it continues to grow daily. There are currently about one billion members worldwide; there were 901,000,000 members in March 2012 with the projected number for early 2013 at the one billionth mark). Although it originated with the college student population in mind, current members span all age ranges. With Facebook’s huge audience and noticeable presence in our daily lives, it is easy to see why it would be suspected of having an influence on our culture.
What does the Research Show?
Research from Western Illinois University supported previous studies that Facebook appeals to our narcissistic tendencies. The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences; it found that people who updated their Facebook status frequently, tagged themselves in photos, and had large numbers of friends were more likely to demonstrate traits of narcissism. A different study found that individuals who spent an hour or more on Facebook every day had higher levels of narcissism.
But in 4/2912, a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and the University of Hartford found that the time spent on Facebook was not associated with narcissism. Narcissism was correlated only with those who had an unrealistically high number of Facebook ‘friends’.
What appeared to be narcissistic self-promoting behavior was simply a manifestation of a generation that grew up in the digital age; they were using the sharing of personal information on Facebook as a means of maintaining relationships. On the other hand, the researchers found that the highest scores on a narcissism inventory were associated with tweeting about themselves on Twitter.
Most of these studies were done on college students and had 300 or less participants. New research from Australia surveyed over one thousand people between the ages of 18 and 44 instead of just college students as the previous studies had done.
They reported that Facebook users were more narcissistic and extroverted than non-users. They found a correlation between Facebook usage and higher scores on exhibitionism, leadership and narcissism.
However, these researchers did not find any correlation between time spent on Facebook and narcissism but instead found that it correlated with neuroticism and loneliness. They concluded, “It could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”
The rise in narcissism has coincided with the explosion of Facebook; however, recent research suggests that Facebook usage, in general, is not a sign of narcissism, but simply a manifestation of the times we live in.
There is an exception to that statement; several studies did agree that users who amassed an unusually large number of Facebook friends had higher scores on an inventory that assessed levels of narcissism. People have made an erroneous cause-and-effect association between Facebook use and increasing levels of narcissism.
There are opposing views as to whether time spent daily on Facebook is indicative of narcissistic traits. Most of the research had a relatively small number of participants, or a small number of nonusers, or another research study flaw. But given the consistency of results in some areas, it seems safe to say that Facebook usage does not increase the level of narcissism nor cause narcissism.
However, if a person already has the personality traits associated with narcissism than Facebook and Twitter are probably good outlets to satisfy his or her need to be admired by many casual ‘friends’.
To further reinforce this position, one writer pointed out that by the time a child is old enough to join Facebook, the roots of narcissism would have already had a solid foundation.