If Narcissus had tweaked one of Socrates’ famous teachings just a tad, he could have come up with a pretty good one-liner carrying a double meaning. It would, of course, be simply:
The more time I spend on Facebook, the more I wonder about narcissism. There seems to be a lot of talking and not all that much listening, and so much of the talk centers on what the poster
is up to or what great thought she/he just had. My own posts are usually no different. I recently concluded a cross-country road trip from California to Ohio and felt duty-bound to publicly journal it on FB all the way.
Self-love to the max
Narcissism is defined variously as “self-love,” or “an exceptional interest in and admiration of yourself.” One definition notes that it is “self-love that shuts out everyone else.”
Giving myself and a lot of other FB posters the benefit of a doubt, I don’t think we’re there, at least not yet, because there is a lot of interacting with others that takes place on the site. There are a lot of congratulatory messages, notes of concern and support, a lot of happy birthdays and happy anniversaries. I’ve even got at least one FB friend who uses her posts to extol the virtues of God. And it’s only natural that we post what we know best, and that is often news about ourselves.
But there are times when you see nothing but photo slide shows of individuals that look like they were taken at a Glamour Shots studio over at the mall and, when you compare them with the snapshots taken from every unflattering angle possible, you wonder if you are looking at the borderline between narcissists and everyday people.
Or could it be some of us just remember what Mom advised: “Always look your best!” I mean, have you never asked for a second or third click for your driver’s license or school I.D.? And how may people are ever even going to see that mug shot?
This subject of self-love and the social media has not escaped the attention of psychologists, and I came across an interesting study the other day that looks at it. The researchers are Laura Buffardi, a grad student in psychology, and W. Keith Campbell, professor of psychology, both at the University of Georgia. Their work appears in the October issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (http://psp.sagepub.com)
Buffardi says narcissism is not just drawing attention to oneself or wanting to be liked. Clearly a lot of us fall into those parameters. Instead, she and Campbell say it is more severe than that and is characterized by an inability to form healthy, longterm relationships.
In the way it’s used
Buffardi noted, “Not everyone who uses Facebook is a narcissist. We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in self-promoting way that can be identified by others.”
So the two researchers gave questionnaires to 130 FB users, analyzed the content of the pages and had untrained strangers view the pages and rate their impression of the owner’s level of narcissism.
The team discovered, after analyzing the results, that the correlates of narcissism are the number of FB friends and wallposts that individual have on their pfile pages. Buffardi feels this is similar to how narcissists behave the in the real world, accumulating many relationships, most of which are very shallow.
And to my question about the kind of pictures FB users post of themselves, the researchers offer this: “Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos, while others are more likely to use snapshots.”
Hmmm … better re-evaluate my own profile picture, shot one evening in the Austrian Alps. Too much?
Impressions of impressions
Back to the Buffardi/Campbell study where they write, “Untrained observers were able to detect the narcissists also. Observers used three characteristics (quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual, and the degree of self-promotion in the main photo) to form an impression of the individual’s personality.”
The study seems to find what we would think to be true: Some FB users use the site in narcissistic ways, while others just use it to stay in touch with friends and keep them informed about their lives.
Says Campbell, “Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions. It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships: for self-promotoion with an emphasis on quantity over quality.”
Couldn’t it be that some people are just more extroverted than others and choose to have larger circles of friends? Just because you fall into that category doesn’t make you a follower of Narcissus.
So all this is interesting to speculate about but, of course, if we start focusing too much on ourselves and how we look to others on Facebook, aren’t we in a de facto way becoming narcissistic?