Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D.

Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D.

Your Online Secrets


Narcissism and Cyberbullying in Online Dating

Gay and straight online daters have different bullying & narcissism experiences

Posted Jun 08, 2016

 Iqbal Osman/Flickr
Source: Iqbal Osman/Flickr

It is know that gays tend to experience more cyberbullying online. A new study looks at how that plays out in online dating environments and how it relates to personality traits, like narcissism. 

Researchers were interested in how likely pathological narcissists (not just casual narcissism) were to bully others and to be victims themselves. Let's start with some basics. Cyberbullying was measured in a way that might vary from what we have come to expect from media stories about harassed high school students. Since this study focused on online dating, researchers measured bullying with a series of things someone could do to another, ranging from light ("someone on the dating site lied to me about his/ her age") to severe ("someone on the dating site asked me to have unprotected sex with him/her"). The study looked at 347 adults who took a series of online surveys and questionnaires. The results are self-reported, but were constrained to multiple choice items and rating scales to ensure accuracy.

The results touched on differences in the prevalence of pathological narcissism, cyberbullying, and the interaction between the two.

Narcissism aside, homosexual people tended to be harassed more often than straight people, but there was no difference in how often they perpetrated cyberbullying. 

Bullying aside, the researchers found more pathological narcissism overall and the sub-trait of grandiosity (thinking you are better than everyone else) among gay men than among straight women. 

When narcissistic traits and cyberbullying are considered together, a couple interesting patterns emerged. First, the researchers looked at two components of pathological narcissism: vulnerability and grandiosity. As mentioned above, grandiosity is thinking you're better than everyone else. Vulnerability is used to describe people who are pathologically narcissistic and who are hypersensitive to criticism.

Among gay men, narcissism vulnerability correlated with being a cyberbullying victim; the stronger the narcissism trait, the more intense the cyberbullying. The same pattern was not found among lesbians, however. When looking at grandiosity, gay men and women both experienced more cyberbullying as the trait became stronger. Among women, it was also positively associated with more perpetration (women who had stronger feelings of superiority bullied others more often), but that relationship was not there among men. These results suggest that there are different cultures among people of varying sexual orientation and genders, and that their personality traits and behaviors manifest differently as a result.

There is a lot left to understand about how pathological narcissism presents itself in a variety of environments, but this study gives a peak into how it shows up differently among various types of people in one online context.

Zerach, Gadi. "Pathological narcissism, cyberbullying victimization and offending among homosexual and heterosexual participants in online dating websites." Computers in Human Behavior 57 (2016): 292-299.