Is Social Media Turning Us into Narcissists?

by Argosy University 27 June 2013

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You might have had your suspicions for a long time that some of your social media contacts are a little more self-obsessed than is healthy, but now it's official: a new study has linked high levels of social media use with narcissism.

 

Could this be a reason to break your social media habits before it does permanent damage to your personality?

Studying Social Media and Narcissism

Published in Computers in Human Behavior, this study examined the psychology of adults in various age groups, and looked for correlations between narcissistic traits and excessive use of social media. One finding that stood out strongly from the research was the fact that young adults who scored highly on narcissism tests posted more often on Twitter than those whose scores fell in the normal range.

Middle-aged narcissists, meanwhile, chose a different outlet for their social media outpourings, preferring to post status updates on Facebook. However, the general trend remained the same - the more narcissistic individuals updated more often than those with more typical psychologies.

What is Narcissism?

The researchers conducting this study used a personality assessment to evaluate the participants' levels of certain traits—including superiority, exhibitionism, authority, willingness to exploit others, and self-sufficiency. These traits are typically associated with narcissistic personality disorder, in which individuals fixate on their own power and prestige.

Could use of social media be linked with narcissism? Researcher Elliot Panek thinks so. He describes how Facebook allows individuals to curate and control their online image, and to gain approval from others within their social circle. Meanwhile, Twitter acts as a platform for narcissistic individuals to broadcast their opinions to a wide audience.

Correlation or Causation?

Before you rush online to shut down your social media accounts, note that the researchers did not draw any conclusions about social media causing narcissistic tendencies to develop. It is not clear from this one study whether narcissistic people are naturally drawn to social media as a way of broadcasting their own thoughts and opinions, or whether excessive use of social media leads to the development of narcissistic traits.

This research was one of the first studies to look at the relationship between narcissistic traits and patterns of social media. Future research in this area of study could probe more deeply into this relationship to find out how different aspects of social media usage, such as posting status updates, reading posts by others, or commenting on content posted by other users, correlates with or even contributes to narcissistic psychology in adults of all ages.

Read more on this study here: You're So Vain: Study Links Social Media Use and Narcissism. Or, learn about our Psychology programs here.

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