Sunday, May 20, 2012
Prior studies have shown an alleged relationship between the use of Facebook and narcissism. This column from the Sunday magazine section of the New York Times has compiled several recent studies that have tried to home in on precisely what sort of Facebook behavior correlates with increases in narcissism. Is it the total amount of time you spend on Facebook? Is it whether you are more focused on updating your own Facebook status than commenting on the status of others? Does the number of "friends" you've acquired have anything to with increases in narcissism?
Perhaps all of the above according to the studies reported by the NYT reflecting that a variety of behaviors may indicate increased levels of narcissism. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . .
There has been a lot of scholarship devoted to the study of Facebook, sparking debate about the mental health and personality traits of frequent users. Most recently, research from Western Illinois University suggested, like other studies before it, that Facebook appeals to our most narcissistic tendencies. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, asked 292 people to answer questions aimed at measuring how self-involved they were.
Those who frequently updated their Facebook status, tagged themselves in photos and had large numbers of virtual friends, were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits, the study found. Another study found that people with high levels of narcissism were more likely to spend more than an hour a day on Facebook, and they were also more likely to post digitally enhanced personal photos. But what the research doesn’t answer is whether Facebook attracts narcissists or turns us into them.
Last month, a study of 233 Facebook-using college students by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Hartford took a different approach. Were the students primarily writing self-promoting status updates? Or were they interested in others, clicking “likes” and posting comments on friends’ pages? How many Facebook friends did they collect?
In addition to measuring narcissism (Do you like being the center of attention or blending in with the crowd?), the researchers also measured a student’s sense of privacy. (Do you share information with a wide circle of friends or value your privacy?) The researchers found, to their surprise, that frequency of Facebook use, whether it was for personal status updates or to connect with friends, was not associated with narcissism. Narcissism per se was associated with only one type of Facebook user — those who amassed unrealistically large numbers of Facebook friends.
Instead, frequent Facebook users were more likely to score high on “openness” and were less concerned about privacy. So what seems like self-promoting behavior may just reflect a generation growing up in the digital age, where information — including details about personal lives — flows freely and connects us.
“It’s a huge oversimplification to say Facebook is for narcissists,” said Lynne Kelly, director of the school of communication at the University of Hartford and one of the study’s authors. “You share information about yourself on Facebook as a way to maintain relationships.”
According further to the column, the social media tool of choice for hardcore narcissists is Twitter.