Some Ties Found Between Social Media Activity, Narcissism

A new German study finds a weak to moderate link between a certain form of narcissism and social media activity.

The enormous popularity of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter has challenged researchers to explain their appeal, and one area of interest has been the link between social media and narcissism.

Narcissists think of themselves as being exceptionally talented, remarkable, and successful. They love to themselves to other people and seek approval from them.

As such, various studies conducted over the past years have investigated to what extent the use of social media is associated with narcissistic tendencies, with contradictory results. Some studies supported a positive relationship between the use of social network channels whereas others confirmed only weak or even negative effects.

The new study was led by Professor Markus Appel, chair of Media Communication at the University of Würzburg, and Dr. Timo Gnambs, head of the Educational Measurement section at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories, Bamberg.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis in which they summarized the results of 57 studies comprising more than 25,000 participants in total. Their findings appear in the Journal of Personality.

Given the established definition of narcissism, social networks such as Facebook are believed to be an ideal platform for these people, Appel said. The network gives them easy access to a large audience and allows them to selectively post information for the purpose of self-promotion. Moreover, they can meticulously cultivate their image.

As such, researchers have suspected social networking sites to be an ideal breeding ground for narcissists from early on. However, the new meta-analysis shows that the situation does not seem to be as bad as feared.

In the study, scientists examined three hypotheses.

The first assumption suggests “grandiose narcissists” frequent social networking sites more often than representatives of another form of narcissism, the “vulnerable narcissists.” Vulnerable narcissism is associated with insecurity, fragile self-esteem, and social withdrawal.

Secondly, investigators reviewed the assumption that the link between narcissism and the number of friends and certain self-promoting activities is much more pronounced compared to other activities possible on social networking sites.

Thirdly, the researchers hypothesized that the link between narcissism and the social networking behavior is subject to cultural influences.

That is, in collectivistic cultures where the focus is on the community rather than the individual or where rigid roles prevail, social media give narcissists the opportunity to escape from prevalent constraints and present themselves in a way that would be impossible in public.

Results from the meta-analysis of the 57 studies did in fact confirm the scientists’ assumptions.

Grandiose narcissists are encountered more frequently in social networks than vulnerable narcissists. Moreover, a link has been found between the number of friends a person has and how many photos they upload and the prevalence of traits associated with narcissism.

The gender and age of users is not relevant in this respect. Typical narcissists spend more time in social networks than average users and they exhibit specific behavioral patterns.

A mixed result was found for the influence of the cultural background on the usage behavior. “In countries where distinct social hierarchies and unequal power division are generally more accepted such as India or Malaysia, there is a stronger correlation between narcissism and the behavior in social media than in countries like Austria or the USA,” said Appel.

However, the analysis of the data from 16 countries on four continents does not show a comparable influence of the “individualism” factor.

Researchers wondered if the frequently cited “Generation Me” is a reflection or product of social media such as Facebook and Instagram because they promote narcissistic tendencies? Or, do these sites simply provide the ideal environment for narcissists? The researchers were not able to finally answer these questions.

“We suggest that the link between narcissism and the behavior in social media follows the pattern of a self-reinforcing spiral,” said Appel. And, the appeal of social media activities is dependent on an individual’s disposition.

Therefore, researchers say that more research has to be conducted over longer periods to resolve the questions.

Source: University of Wurzburg