Facebook, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, online personality

Who we are on Facebook, online, often mirrors we we are.

Photo credit link: Flickr

Let me disclaim upfront, the findings represented in this article don’t suggest Facebook users are narcissists, rather narcissists can be spotted on Facebook based on certain indicators.  

I’d also like to look at more current research to see if the 2008 findings I reference in my article change over time. As social media, particularly Facebook, becomes increasingly the cultural norm for communication, media and public opinion, the factors used to spot narcissists from Facebook posts/profiles may no longer hold true.

Increasingly these findings may simply represent the majority of online users who are now becoming the populous. For example, many users have lots of “friends” and a flattering photo and are not in any way borderline or full-blown narcissists.

Facebook, like all platforms for expression will eventually blend seamlessly with the population rather than differentiate. Facebook will increasingly, I believe, define, parse and profile people to the same degree all forms of communication offer a form of expressing who we are.

It’s not the communication medium that makes the person, it’s that people are finding new, increasingly more convenient, and in the case of the shy or introverted, more comfortable ways to express who they are anyway.

I will say however, online communication offers a form of emotional protection with its absence of face to face cues and reaction. This form of social connection fosters, I think, a safe camaraderie and an easy kinship that isn’t always gained so fast when people are eyeball to eyeball for the first time at a party, fidgeting with their shyness, pregnant pauses, agendas, or moment to moment social awkwardness.  

Just last night someone told me she’s more outgoing on Facebook than she is in person. Communication outlets don’t turn us into who we are, we use them for how we need them, how they complement or at times, hinder our authentic self.

Facebook Wall Posts and Profile Can Predict Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A 2008 study showed that social media sites may offer a vivid snapshot of a person’s true personality. With the explosive growth of online communities like Facebook, social psychologists are studying how personality traits are expressed in cyberspace. A 2008 study from the University of Georgia found narcissists are likely to have a large number of Facebook friends and wall posts as well as a glamorous, self-promoting profile picture.

 A narcissistic personality disorder is defined as having an inflated sense of one’s own importance and a deep need for admiration. People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they’re superior to others and have little interest in offering empathy. Yet behind their elevated confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Researchers at the University of Georgia administered a personality questionnaire to 130 Facebook users, analyzed the content of their pages and asked untrained observers to view and rate the pages. Results indicated a correlation between the number of Facebook contacts and wall posts and narcissism.

The results of the study don’t suggest people who use Facebook are narcissists, rather narcissists are likely to have these particular traits.

The behavior of narcissists on Facebook is often consistent with their real world behavior. In both arenas they tend to have numerous shallow connections because the disorder influences their ability to form healthy, long-term relationships. “Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage,” said associate professor W. Keith Campbell. “They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run.”

Facebook Users Not More Narcissistic, Narcissists Often On Facebook

Researchers found that even untrained observers could detect narcissism in Facebook users. Observers tended to use three characteristics to form an impression of the individual’s personality:

  1. Quantity of social interactions
  2. Attractiveness
  3. Degree of self-promotion in the main photo

And while the observers were not 100% accurate in their assessments, they were able to form a relatively accurate impression.

Campbell notes that there’s no research suggesting that Facebook users are more narcissistic than others. “It seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions,” he said. Although because narcissists tend to have more contacts on Facebook, a typical Facebook user is likely to have a higher proportion of narcissists in their contact list than in the real world.

Online Profile and Photo Accurately Convey Real-Life Personality

First impressions count, even online. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found people learn a lot from a person’s appearance. In the study observers looked at 123 photos of strangers and were asked to rate them across ten personality traits.

Ratings were compared to the photo subjects’ self-ratings and those provided by close acquaintances. Results indicated that regardless of whether the person stood in a controlled or neutral pose, observers were able to accurately judge major personality traits including extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity.

When subjects were in a neutral position, observers accurately predicted nine of the ten personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation.

Simine Vazire, an assistant professor of psychology who runs Washington University’s Personality and Self-Knowledge Lab and an author of the study warns that strangers can find out as much about someone’s personality as acquaintances, just by looking them up on the Internet. “It’s another example of how pervasive personality is,” she says. “You can’t outrun your personality. It’s going to follow you everywhere.”

Psychological Science researchers found that online social networking sites don’t convey an “idealized identity.” Instead, these sites often portray a person’s personality quite accurately, a finding that might help explain online sites’ popularity. While online users might believe they’re creating a particular persona, their content, number of online friends, frequency of posts and profile picture are fairly accurate indicators of their actual personality.

Sources:

MayoClinic.com,”Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” November 19, 2009, Retrieved January 15, 2010.

University of Georgia (2008, September 23).”Facebook Profiles Can Be Used To Detect Narcissism,” ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 15, 2010.

Johannah Cornblatt, “Making a Digital First Impression: Why You Can’t Fake Your Facebook Profile,” Newsweek.com. November 10, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2010.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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