Is Facebook Really a Playground for Narcissists?

Fascinating new research into who we like on Facebook and why.

Posted Mar 29, 2015

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Source: gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Narcissists are characterized by a grandiose self-view, an excessive preoccupation with themselves, and an instrumental use of social relationships. In other words, we may recognize narcissists by their fixation with their own accomplishments, their inability to admit to personal flaws, and the inordinate amount of time they spend talking about themselves. But often, we fail to "spot the narcissist" because they can be extremely charming, at least initially. We are often mesmerized by their animated anecdotes starring—you guessed it—themselves, and their engaging manner. Unfortunately, social relationships with narcissists tend to be one-sided: They are uninterested in other people, and view them simply as a supply of attention, affirmation, and validation. Indeed, deep down, narcissists are plagued by insecurity and self-doubt, and desperately crave positive social feedback in order to quell these feelings.

Social-networking sites in general, and Facebook in particular, have been described as havens for narcissists. People imagine that such platforms are ideally suited to narcissists because, by definition, they invite people to discuss themselves, no matter how trivial the details of their everyday lives may be, and to attract attention from social networks in the form of "likes" and comments.  

But is this really the case? Are narcissists really having the time of their lives on Facebook? Research confirms that, indeed, narcissists spend more time on Facebook than non-narcissists1, they engage in a great deal of self-promotion there2,3, and they use the site with the intention of shining a spotlight on themselves and attracting admiration4.

But despite these trends, no research had clarified to what extent narcissists were in fact successful in attracting the chorus of adoration they sought on Facebook. That's where my colleagues Mina Choi, Elliot Panek, Yioryos Nardis, and I stepped in. In a recently published study5, we recruited a sample of Facebook users, measured their levels of narcissism, requested access to their profiles, and then extracted the number of "likes" and comments they received from their social networks in response to their status updates.

The results were fascinating: The more narcissistic the posters, the less social attention they received from Facebook. In particular, this trend was driven by individuals scoring high in exploitativeness and entitlement, two components of narcissism. Notably, exploitativeness (i.e., taking advantage of others) and entitlement (i.e., believing that one is the best) are some of the most noxious and insufferable facets of narcissism. Simply put: Facebook friends recognized these individuals and distanced themselves from them by ignoring them. 

These results have two sets of important implications: First, they dispel the notion that Facebook is an unquestionably desirable venue for narcissists. Yes, narcissists are able to self-promote on Facebook and they enjoy the fact that their profiles are a dedicated space where they can focus on and aggrandize themselves. But they are not able to capitalize on this self-promotion by obtaining the attention they crave. Quite the contrary: Narcissists appear to alienate their audiences on Facebook.

In all, we may conclude that Facebook satisfies narcissists' needs for self-promotion, but not for social validation. Second, the results provide unique insights into narcissists' social relationships. Research to date has focused on narcissists' interactions with strangers. As discussed, in these zero-acquaintance contexts, narcissists fare quite well, exhibiting a great deal of charm. Research on narcissists' long-term interactions is scarcer. Our study shows that, over time, narcissists' charm wears thin and the undesirable aspects of their character become apparent to friends, who choose to keep their distance.

References

1 Panek, E. T., Nardis, Y., & Konrath, S. (2013). Mirror or Megaphone?: How
relationships between narcissism and social networking site use differ on
Facebook and Twitter. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2004–2012.

2 Buffardi, L. E., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking web sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1303-1314.

3 Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-presentation 2.0: Narcissism and self-esteem on
Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13, 357–364.

4 Bergman, S. M., Fearrington, M. E., Davenport, S. W., & Bergman, J. Z. (2011).
Millennials, narcissism, and social networking: What narcissists do on social
networking sites and why. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 706–711.

5 Choi, M., Panek, E. T., Nardis, Y., & Toma, C. L. (2015). When social media isn’t social: Friends’ responsiveness to narcissists on Facebook. Personality and Individual Differences, 77, 209-214.

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