It probably comes as little surprise to anyone, but a small exploratory study done on 100 college students from a single university suggests that students who score higher on a test of narcissism also spent more time checking and updating their Facebook profile.
Facebook is currently the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users. More than 50% of Facebook’s active users log on to Facebook in any given day, while the average user has 130 social connections (what Facebook calls “friends”).
The researcher (Mehdizadeh, 2010) also examined the relationship between narcissism and self-esteem, as well as gender differences in how people use Facebook for self-promotion. “Self-promotion,” according to how it was used in this study, was defined as “any descriptive or visual information that appeared to attempt to persuade others about one’s own positive qualities. “
Mehdizadeh looked at only five profile features in Facebook: (a) the About Me section, (b) the Main Photo, (c) the first 20 pictures on the View Photos of Me section, (d) the Notes section, and (e) the Status Updates section. The researcher, rating these items on her own, examined to the extent they were considered self-promoting according to the above definition.
What did the research find?
A statistically significant correlation between narcissistic students, and the number of times Facebook was checked per day as well as the time spent on Facebook per session.
However, the researcher did not find a significant correlation between scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI-16) and the “About Me” section, the most obvious place a person might be expected to express themselves in a narcissistic manner. A significant correlation was found for self-promotion in the following areas: Main Photo, View Photos, Status Updates, and Notes.
Significant gender differences between men and women were also found (regardless of their NPI-16 score). “Males displayed more self-promotional information in the About Me and Notes sections than women,” noted the researcher. “Conversely, women displayed more self-promotional Main Photos.”
Some reports of this research suggest that the researcher (not “researchers”) found a significant relationship between more self-promotion linked to higher narcissism and lower self-esteem. However, this was found for only one of the five features that the researcher looked at — Main Photos. “In this case, Main Photos could have been selected or enhanced to cover up undesirable features by individuals with low self-esteem in order to enable the actualization of their hoped-for possible selves.” This actually suggests that this isn’t really a very robust finding or one that is very significant. In comparison, women — regardless of their narcissistic scoring — also demonstrated a significant correlation between self-promotion and Main Photos.
Limitations of the study are numerous but standard for this sort of exploratory study. Only students from a single university were studied. This means these results may not be generalizable to Facebook users in general. The researcher also failed to use a group of independent raters, standard fare in good research. Researchers doing their own ratings is generally a no-no, as they may introduce unintended bias into their ratings.
The upshot of this study is simple and expected — those who score more highly on a test of narcissism check Facebook more often and spend more time on Facebook per session. Surprise, surprise.
Mehdizadeh S (2010). Self-presentation 2.0: narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 13 (4), 357-64 PMID: 20712493