Narcissists and those with low self-esteem gravitate toward Facebook as a self-promotional tool and tend to be heavier users of the site, according to a study by a York University psychology student.
Soraya Mehdizadeh examined the online habits and personalities of 100 Facebook users at York University ranging in age from 18-25 years old. Her study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self-esteem spent more time on the site and filled their pages with more self-promotional content.
“We all know people like this. They’re updating their status every five minutes and the photos they post are very carefully construed,” says Mehdizadeh. “The question is, are these really accurate representations of the individual or are they merely a projection of who the individual wants to be?”
Mehdizadeh says she was struck by the fact that those with lower self-esteem were more apt to use this social networking tool.
“I believe the next question to be answered is whether or not the use of such websites could be used to improve one’s self-esteem and overall sense of well-being. This sort of finding may have great implications in the lives of the socially anxious or depressed,” she says.
In the study, five features of participants’ Facebook pages were assessed for self-promotion: the “about me” section, the main photo, the first 20 pictures on the “view photos of me” section, notes, and status updates.
For the purpose of the study, self-promotion was defined as any descriptive or visual information that attempted to persuade others about one's own positive qualities. For example, facial expression (striking a pose or making a face) and picture enhancement (using photo editing software) were assessed in the main photo and “view photos of me” sections. The use of positive adjectives, self-promoting mottos, and metaphorical quotes were examined in the “about me” section. Self-promotion in the notes section could include posting results from Facebook applications including “my celebrity look-alikes,” which compares a photo of the user to celebrities, or vain online quiz results.
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale was used to measure participants’ self-esteem. Narcissism was assessed using the Narcissism Personality Inventory.
Mehdizadeh also looked at the role of gender: she found that men displayed more self-promotional content in the “about me” and notes sections, whereas women demonstrated more self-promotion in the main photo section. No significant difference between the sexes was observed with regards to content in “view photos” or status updates.
The research was conducted as part of Mehdizadeh’s undergraduate thesis in the Bachelor of Psychology program in York’s Faculty of Health.
“I thought this was an interesting way to apply theoretical paradigms in psychology to online self-presentation, which is still a fairly new concept,” she says.