Many well-known social media sites, have become an inter-woven part of many people’s lives worldwide. With as many as two billion active users on Facebook in 2016; 300 million on Twitter, and 500 million on Instagram, there has been a question over whether such vigorous use of these social media sites, has induced narcissistic tendencies.
There have been various studies conducted over the past decade, investigating this prospect, however they have had very contradictory results (Bergman et al.; Leung). There has since been a very recent, comprehensive meta-analysis that has brought together all these previous studies, revealing some interesting trends on the causal links between social media and narcissism. So, does excessive social media usage really induce narcissistic tendencies in online socialites?
A comprehensive meta-analysis
The recent study was conducted by scientists from the Leibniz institute for Education Trajectories Bamberg and the University of Wurzburg (Gnambs and Appel). They summarised the results of 57 studies, which utilized more than 25,000 participants in total. The analysis is now published in the Journal of Personality. The findings illustrated that there was a weak to moderate link between a specific type of narcissism and social media usage.
There are two broad types of narcissists, Grandiose narcissism refers to the notion of an individual feeling an unrealistic sense of superiority, viewing oneself as better than others. Vulnerability narcissism, refers to the notion of an individual seeking approval from others, by putting oneself into the spotlight, as a result of insecurity, social withdrawal and fragile self-esteem (Campbell and McCain).
The study by the German team, revealed that Grandiose narcissists were found much more commonly in social networks than vulnerable narcissists. The study also additionally highlighted a relationship, between the number of friends a person has and the number of photos they upload, with the prevalence of displayed narcissistic traits. These users spend more time on social media sites than average users, exhibiting specific behaviour patterns.
Narcissism also seems to be linked with other social factors. In countries where there are unequal power division and distinct social hierarchies embedded within their societies, such as Malaysia or India, there was a much stronger causal correlation between social media and narcissistic behavior.
While these results would point towards an obvious relationship between increased narcissist tendencies and social media usage, it is not necessary so clear. Do these results show that social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram promote narcissistic tendencies? Or do the results simply provide an ideal environment for narcissistic behavior to be exercised?
The answer to these two questions, is as yet unclear, and further research, over much longer periods of time, is needed in order to shed light on this. However, what can be certain, is that the usage of social media does, in some form, facilitate narcissistic behavior.
The boom in social media usage over the past decade appears to have brought with it a wave of narcissistic behavior displayed by its users. While individual research has been conflicting, the first meta-analysis of over 57 studies, appears to have shown that there is a direct link between usage and narcissism.
Grandiose Narcissism appears to be the most dominant form of the personality trait, while vulnerable narcissism appears much less frequently. However, while it appears irrefutable that the is a relationship between an increase in narcissistic tendencies and social media usage, whether this is directly promoted by social media sites, or arises simply because it is an ideal medium for the already existing behavior to be exercised, is unclear.
Author: Alex Hammond
Alexander Hammond hold a first-class master’s degree in Ecology. He has conducted a number of international research projects in Indonesia, Belize and the UK, in the areas of Marine Biology, Terrestrial Ecology and Conservation. Several of his research reports have been published.