While Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become an important part of the lives of many people worldwide, various studies conducted over the past years have investigated to what extent the use of social media is associated with narcissistic tendencies.
In the most comprehensive analysis to date, Professor Markus Appel, 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 summarized the results of 57 studies comprising more than 25,000 participants in total.
To begin, Appel and Gnambs proposed two types of narcissism. Grandiose narcissists 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 behavior of people commonly referred to as narcissists.
“Social networks such as Facebook are believed to be an ideal platform for these people” (Appel, 2017).
Social networks, notes Appel, give them easy access to a large audience and allow them to selectively post information for the purpose of self-promotion. Moreover, they can meticulously cultivate their image. For these reasons, researchers have suspected social networking sites to be an ideal breeding ground for narcissists from early on.
However, there is another type of narcissism, which Appel and Gnambs describe as “vulnerable narcissists”, which is associated with insecurity, fragile self-esteem, and social withdrawal.
So, what did the meta-analysis find? Perhaps unsurprisingly, grandiose narcissists were found more frequently in social networks than vulnerable narcissists. Moreover, there is a link between the number of friends a person has, how many photos they upload and the prevalence of traits associated with narcissism. Lastly, typical narcissists spend more time in social networks than average users and they exhibit specific behavioral patterns (Gnambs & Appel, 2017).
There also appeared to be some cultural influences. Appel explains, “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 behavior in social media than in countries like Austria or the USA” (Appel, 2017). However, the analysis of the data from 16 countries on four continents did not reveal a comparable influence of the “individualism” factor (Gnambs & Appel, 2017).
While it’s hard to know if social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram promote narcissistic tendencies or if they simply provide the ideal environment for narcissists, Appel suggests that the link between narcissism and the behavior in social media follows the pattern of a “self-reinforcing spiral” (Appel, 2017).
That is, the more likes and positive comments we receive, the more we want to go on Facebook, post pictures (often selfies) and wait in expectation of more praise and admiration. Consequently, the more admiration and praise we receive, the more narcissistic we become. It is a self-reinforcing spiral that many believe has become a breeding ground for the astounding rates if narcissism we see today.