It is undeniable that people love social networks — just think of the 900 million active Facebook users who make the site the second most visited on the web (behind Google).
So why do so many people love social networking sites?
A new study from the University of Georgia finds that social networks play on our self-esteem and to some extent on more narcissistic tendencies.
“Despite the name ‘social networks,’ much user activity on networking sites is self-focused,” said Brittany Gentile, a UGA doctoral candidate who looked at the effects of social networks on self-esteem and narcissism.
The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that the 526 million people who log on to Facebook every day may be boosting their self-esteem in the process.
During the study, researchers asked college students to either edit their social networking page on MySpace or Facebook or to use Google Maps. Those who edited their MySpace page later scored higher on a measure of narcissism, while those who spent time on their Facebook page scored higher on self-esteem.
“Editing yourself and constructing yourself on these social networking sites, even for a short period of time, seems to have an effect on how you see yourself,” said Campbell. “They are feeling better about themselves in both cases. But in one they are tapping into narcissism and in the other into self-esteem.”
Researchers analyzed behavior associated with MySpace use in 2008 – a time in which MySpace totaled 115 million active users (as opposed to 25 million users in June of 2012). Investigators then analyzed Facebook activity in 2011 (900 million users).
On both MySpace and Facebook, students scoring higher in narcissism reported having more friends on the site.
In the study, 151 students, ages 18-22, completed an assessment tool called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
“The NPI measures trait narcissism, which is a stable personality trait,” Gentile said. “But spending 15 minutes editing a MySpace page and writing about its meaning was enough to alter self-reports of this trait, suggesting that social networking sites may be a significant influence on the development of personality and identity.”
The differences in site format may be one reason why MySpace led to higher narcissism whereas Facebook merely produced higher self-esteem.
“The two sites operate differently,” Gentile said. “On MySpace you don’t really interact with other people. The pages resemble personal webpages, and a lot of people have become famous on MySpace, whereas Facebook has a standard profile and a company message that sharing will improve the world.”
Several previous studies found increases over the generations in both self-esteem and narcissism. These new experiments suggest the increasing popularity of social networking sites may play a role in those trends.
“Social networking sites are a product and a cause of a society that is self-absorbed,” Campbell said. “Narcissism and self-esteem began to rise in the 1980s. Because Facebook came on the scene only seven years ago, it wasn’t the original cause of the increases. It may be just another enforcer.”
Researchers believe social networking should not be construed as therapy to build self-esteem. However, the fact that people receive reinforcement when logging on does not mean that the practice should be discarded, Campbell said.
“Ideally, you get self-esteem from having strong relationships and achieving goals that are reasonable and age-appropriate,” she said.
“Ideally, self-esteem is not something you should take a short cut to find. It is a consequence of a good life, not something you chase.”
Source: University of Georgia