Is the narcissism of a Web page owner in a social networking community related to Web site activity, content, and perception by others? According to one recent study this appears to be the case. Or does it?
"We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others," Laura Buffardi, a doctoral student in psychology, was quoted by Physorg.com.
Buffardi co-authored the study with associate professor W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia. And at first blush, the abstract, published at the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, seems right on target. The deeper you read, however, the study outcomes deviate from prevailing views of narcissism.
How The Study Was Conducted.
1. Narcissistic personality self-reports were collected from Facebook Web page owners.
2. Their Web pages were coded for both objective and subjective content features.
3. Strangers viewed the Web pages and rated their impression of the owner on traits and narcissism.
There were several other steps, but these three present the core of the abstract. According to the abstract, it was partly motivated by the concern that "these Web sites offer a gateway for self-promotion via self-descriptions, vanity via photos, and large numbers of shallow relationships (friends are counted—sometimes reaching the thousands—and in some cases ranked), each of which is potentially linked to trait narcissism."
The general hypothesis was to find correlations between "real world" and online expression of narcissism as it relates to a higher number of social relationships (but shallower), self-promotion, self-presentation, and the perception of having a large number of Agentic (a perception that you make choices and impose those choices on the world) characteristics. Some discussion...
• Less self-absorbed people do not seem to be using the Internet for self-promotion to the degree narcissists do.
• The quantity of social interactions and number of relationships is indicative of the traits associated with narcissism.
• The choice of the main photo plays a significant role in the ability of strangers to identify narcissists.
However, the study also noted that real world narcissists are charming and generally make a good first impression whereas online communication seemed to bear out that narcissists' quotes and interactions were less entertaining. And secondly, real world narcissists are not any more attractive than non-narcissists, but strangers tended to rate attractive photos as more likely belonging to narcissists.
What's Missing From The Study?
There are several other factors that could be contributing to online behaviors associated with narcissism, many of which are promoted as social normalcy in such environments. These need to be considered alongside any psychological study.
• Popularity (number of social connections) has an overinflated value of importance.
• Photo selection, especially main photos, could correlate with social media experience.
• The quantity of interactions could also be more likely to correlate with experience.
• Social norms within subgroups often dictate some behavioral traits of individuals.
• Individuals are prone to update information and photos to benchmark personal challenges.
• There is a primary indication that social network behavior is greatly influenced by intent.
Specifically, on the last point, content creators have a tendency to share, interact, and attract more friends or followers, which could produce narcissistic quantifiers. Likewise, people working in communication that act as spokespeople may increase their visibility online regardless of personal "real world" leanings (e.g., I know several shy people who seem extroverted online). Conversely, some individuals may have no interest in personal self-promotion, but have been asked to supply such information by family and friends. The point being, it is extremely difficult to guess at intent.
Can narcissistic qualities be spotted online? Maybe, but the qualifiers to determine narcissism are likely to require observations beyond the owner's Facebook page. For example, someone who has an increasingly high rate of interaction may have a high level of interaction on other people's pages where they are more communal in nature.
Likewise, there seems to be too much emphasis placed on main photos. It makes me wonder whether the strangers rating these pages, after being instructed to look for narcissistic traits, skewed their reporting toward attractive and/or posed photos, assuming it was vanity. Photo selection could equally be any number of reasons, even self-consciousness.
Still, the overall construct of this research is fascinating. Social networking is very well suited for narcissists. Just keep in mind that narcissistic traits are more likely in line with those who believe they are "influencers," frequently promote the number of friends or followers, and force position themselves as an authority within groups.
These are just my initial impressions of this very interesting subject. I'm very interested in hearing different ideas.