Does Facebook Promote Narcissism? Studies Disagree
The vast majority of mental health professionals agree that minor elements of narcissism are not far removed from a natural and healthy desire to respect oneself and take proper emotional care of oneself. In fact, many professionals speak of “healthy narcissism” as an urge to do exactly these kinds of things. However, when narcissism exerts a stronger influence on a person’s view of self and others, he or she can start to develop levels of self-preoccupation that break unwritten rules of social conduct such as reciprocal interest and respect for the feelings of others. A “full-blown” narcissist can develop degrees of self-involvement that isolate him or her from the social compact and interfere with his or her ability to function effectively in social, personal, work-related or school-related settings.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) develops when the impact of narcissistic attitudes and behaviors grows severe enough to produce serious social, personal, work-related or school-related dysfunction. According to official guidelines established by the American Psychiatric Assn., people with the disorder have a minimum of five symptoms that indicate the presence of this type of dysfunction. Potential symptoms present in an affected individual include repeated or recurring displays of personal arrogance, a strong tendency to view relationships through the filter of envy, a preoccupation with gaining the admiration of others, a tendency to use relationships for the manipulation of others, a personal belief in one’s unrecognized or unacknowledged “uniqueness,” an entrenched sense of personal entitlement, an inability or failure to feel empathy toward others, an unrealistic sense of personal importance, and the persistent presence of thoughts fixated on one’s beauty, brilliance, sense of mastery, etc.
Social Media as a Vehicle for Narcissism
In a study published in 2012 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers at Western Illinois University used a standard survey called the narcissistic personality inventory (NPI) to examine the level of narcissism displayed by almost 300 people with Facebook accounts. The NPI seeks to quantify aspects of narcissistic behavior such as grandiose exhibitionism—which involves displays of self-preoccupation, vanity, and dominance over others—and entitlement/exploitativeness, which involves an outsized sense of self-entitlement and readiness to maneuver socially for personal gain or advantage.
Next, the researchers examined the Facebook pages of the study participants and looked for potential indicators of narcissism such as self-promotion and antisocial attitudes. In the third phase of the study, the researchers compared the study participants’ NPI scores with their Facebook behaviors. They concluded that people who heavily promote themselves on Facebook have strong tendencies toward the narcissistic traits of grandiose exhibitionism. They also concluded that people who regularly display antisocial behaviors on Facebook have strong tendencies toward the narcissistic traits of entitlement/exploitativeness.
Social Media as a Vehicle for Building Relationships
Not all researchers agree with conclusions such as those drawn by the team from Western Illinois University. For example, in another study published in 2012 in the journal Communication Research Reports, researchers at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington concluded that college students using Facebook and other social media are much more likely to spend their time sharing with others and building relationships than engaging in displays of self-absorption or narcissism. They believe that it is the very act of sharing in this age group that brings up questions of narcissism, even when those questions don’t adequately address the underlying urge for social media participation. The University of North Carolina researchers also believe that the rise of social media may mark a turning point in the current definition of narcissistic behavior, as well as an accompanying need for new definitions that don’t inherently view the now normal act of social media participation as a display of self-absorption.
The researchers from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington acknowledge the fact that their study centered on narcissistic displays in social media without directly comparing those displays to the narcissistic personality inventory or the existing definition of narcissistic personality disorder. They point toward a need for further research to confirm or disprove their initial conclusions.