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Networks of Narcissists: Social Media and Narcissism

Summary: A new study reports narcissists are drawn to social network platforms as they see them as the ideal stages to showcase themselves.

Source: University of Würzburg.

Social networks are an ideal stage for narcissists to showcase themselves. Accordingly, a lot of people with narcissistic traits are drawn to these platforms as a new study conducted by psychologists from Würzburg and Bamberg shows.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become an important part of the lives of many people worldwide. Around two billion users were active on Facebook at the end of 2016; 500 million regularly post photos on Instagram and more than 300 million communicate via Twitter.

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 Facebook, Twitter and the likes, whereas others confirmed only weak or even negative effects.

Most comprehensive meta-analysis so far

A new study from scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories Bamberg and the University of Würzburg reports there is a weak to moderate link between a certain form of narcissism and social media activity. When taking a differentiated look at specific forms of behaviour or at the participants’ cultural background, the effect is even more pronounced.

The study was lead by Professor Markus Appel, who holds the 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. For their meta-analysis, the scientists summarized the results of 57 studies comprising more than 25,000 participants in total. They published their findings in the Journal of Personality.

Forms of narcissism

They think of themselves as being exceptionally talented, remarkable and successful. They love to present themselves to other people and seek approval from them: This is how psychologists describe the typical behaviour of people commonly referred to as narcissists. “Accordingly, social networks such as Facebook are believed to be an ideal platform for these people,” says Markus Appel.

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. Therefore, researchers have suspected social networking sites to be an ideal breeding ground for narcissists from early on.

Three hypotheses

The recently published meta-analysis shows that the situation does not seem to be as bad as feared. The scientists examined the truth behind three hypotheses. Firstly, the assumption that 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, they assumed 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 behaviour is subject to cultural influences. 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.

The results

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 behavioural patterns.

a cell phone

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. Therefore, researchers have suspected social networking sites to be an ideal breeding ground for narcissists from early on. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

A mixed result was found for the influence of the cultural background on the usage behaviour. “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 behaviour in social media than in countries like Austria or the USA,” says Markus Appel.

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

Generation Me

So is the frequently cited “Generation Me” a 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 two scientists were not able to finally answer these questions.

“We suggest that the link between narcissism and the behaviour in social media follows the pattern of a self-reinforcing spiral,” Markus Appel says. An individual disposition controls the social media activities and these activities in turn reinforce the disposition. To finally resolve this question, more research has to be conducted over longer periods.

About this psychology research article

Source: University of Würzburg
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Narcissism and Social Networking Behavior: A Meta-Analysis” by Timo Gnambs and Markus Appel in Journal of Personality. Published online March 23 2017 doi:10.1111/jopy.12305

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Würzburg “Networks of Narcissists: Social Media and Narcissism.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 18 April 2017.
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University of Würzburg (2017, April 18). Networks of Narcissists: Social Media and Narcissism. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved April 18, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/narcissism-social-media-6440/
University of Würzburg “Networks of Narcissists: Social Media and Narcissism.” http://neurosciencenews.com/narcissism-social-media-6440/ (accessed April 18, 2017).

Abstract

Narcissism and Social Networking Behavior: A Meta-Analysis

Objective

The increasing popularity of social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter has given rise to speculations that the intensity of using these platforms is associated with narcissistic tendencies. However, recent research on this issue has been all but conclusive.

Method

We present a three-level, random effects meta-analysis including 289 effect sizes from 57 studies (total N = 25,631) on the association between trait narcissism and social networking behavior.

Results

The meta-analysis identified a small to moderate effect of ρ = .17 (τ = .11), 95% CI [.13, .21], for grandiose narcissism that replicated across different social networking platforms, respondent characteristics, and time. Moderator analyses revealed pronounced cultural differences, with stronger associations in power-distant cultures. Moreover, social networking behaviors geared toward self-presentation and the number of SNS friends exhibited stronger effects than usage durations.

Conclusions

Overall, the study not only supported but also refined the notion of a relationship between engaging in social networking sites and narcissistic personality traits.

“Narcissism and Social Networking Behavior: A Meta-Analysis” by Timo Gnambs and Markus Appel in Journal of Personality. Published online March 23 2017 doi:10.1111/jopy.12305

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