Social-Networking Revelation: Narcissism on Facebook

Because of such mass participation on social-networking sites (twenty-two million logged onto Facebook in August), psychologists are beginning to study implications of use and the extent to which online behavior parallels that in real life. A recent study completed at the University of Georgia concludes that social-networking sites prove helpful in determining one's vanity. This study--completed by a doctoral student in psychology alongside an associate professor, Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell, respectively--explores the significance of using Facebook for self-promotion (see right picture). Researchers gave questionnaires to almost 130 Facebook users and had these "untrained strangers" score individual pages using three characteristics: amount of social interaction, appeal of the individual, and extent of self-promotion. With this data, Buffardi and Campbell conclude that the number of Facebook friends and wall posts correlate with narcissism. Buffardi says that, "people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others," just like narcissists in real life who have "numerous yet shallow relationships." According to Campbell, the study of social-networking is "still in its infancy," but he still believes it possible to make character judgments based on specific attributes of one's Facebook page.

This week, I decided to explore the blogosphere to gain more insight about this study from an accredited individual, and a victim of judgment. First, I visited the page of Dr. Christopher Panza, an associate professor of philosophy at Drury University. His post "This Just In: Facebook Narcissism!" interests me because he so quickly discredits this study by believing that it states the obvious. Also, I explored "Are People With A Lot of 'Friends' on Facebook Narcissists?" by Scott Bradley, a recent college graduate who uses Facebook, and is quoted as an example of a narcissist by a reporter for ABC in "Facebook: Where Narcissists Connect?". Although he is not a professional researcher, I believe his insight is important considering the way he claims his words were twisted for the article. I have included my comments below.

"This Just In: Facebook Narcissism!"
I enjoyed reading your post about the recent study correlating Facebook friends, profile pictures, and wall posts with narcissism. I understand that people may perceive a multitude of Facebook friends as narcissistic (wanting to appear popular, and conversely, wanting to positively convey one's self to the largest audience possible), but number of friends has other purposes as well. But do you believe true narcissism is so obvious? Not everyone uses Facebook as a constant reminder of his or her own perfection, as Caravaggio's Narcissus uses this pond to do below. For example, as humans, we are nosy. We want to anonymously gain access to others' lives, and what better way to do this than to become Facebook friends? It allows entry into another's pictures, information (hometown, subjects studied, relationship status), and interests, among others. Also, a major way to find out about social events is through Facebook; the more friends one has, the more potential social gatherings one may find and attend.

While I agree with your observation that "Facebook...creates more and more ways for people to over-indulge in self-absorption," I do not believe that the majority of people with a Facebook account have it for this reason. Beyond narcissism, I think it is most obvious that as humans, we want to portray ourselves well. Just like if I were to go for a job interview, I would dress nicely to look my best and bring a resume outlining my most proud accomplishments, on Facebook I want to do the same. I know my peers can see me, so why would I choose an unflattering picture?

I understand that you do not look upon Facebook favorably, but to say that Facebook so obviously breeds narcissism insinuates a greater abundance of this trait than I believe exists. This study even says that narcissism is detectable in only some cases, not to mention the small sample size of 130 for which drawing conclusions seems questionable. I believe that part of the problem with Facebook research is that the generation doing the research (comprised of individuals who probably do not have Facebook pages) projects so many negative ideas onto Facebook users. For example, you say that you "have no interest in reading anyone's profile anymore, because [you are] afraid of learning just how deep the psychological insecurities of particular people extend." What if Facebook researchers employ this same attitude? Although you seem surprised at "the money people get to run certain studies," I believe studies like this one are important, if they can remain unbiased.

"Are People With A Lot of 'Friends' On Facebook Narcissists?"
I saw the recent study by the University of Georgia about the correlation between narcissism and number of Facebook friends, wall posts, and pictures. As an avid Facebook user myself, I cannot say that reading this news was surprising because I believe that many of the researchers doing these studies are not part of the generation that takes full advantage of social-networking tools, so they therefore do not completely understand its use. I decided to do more research into the matter and came across the ABC article in which you were quoted. Upon first read, I was surprised to hear of someone with so many Facebook friends, as I have not seen this first hand, but reading your post made a few things more clear. You say you met "95% of the speakers [you] brought to speak at the Boston College Entrepreneur Society between [your] junior and senior year." This seems like a legitimate reason to have so many Facebook friends: you want to reach out to as many people as possible with a common interest--entrepreneurship, I presume-- in attempt to find the few that will show interest in coming to speak with your society.

You mention that one should not "talk about narcissism without talking about influence," alluding to the great impact you have had on others. Do you think that is a little bit narcissistic? Even if that comment appears a bit conceited, your friend made some interesting points in the video: he says that social-networking sites are a way to "sell" yourself, and that we "sell" ourselves on and offline everyday. This is a valid point; with job opportunities so competitive today, we must market ourselves. Because potential employers do look at sites like Facebook pages, it is important that we represent ourselves in the best way possible.

This study may have been improved by also having participants judge themselves on the same narcissism scale by which they judged others, and further compared those ratings to their own Facebook pages. More than narcissism, this study seems to be about the judgment we place on others, when we should also consider our own behaviors and the ways in which we are ourselves perceived.


Chris Panza said...

Nice blog, Emily. Keep it up!

Chris Jahnle said...

Your post is thoroughly researched and reported, the topic is extremely interesting and the two blogs you commented on could not have been better choices to hone the focus of your post. Each source balances the other in terms of their stance on Facebook as a social-networking tool, but find common ground through their opinions of the study. Your comments on each blog clearly show your opinions of Facebook and the study. The way you chose to question Dr. Panza's responses on the nuances of the study, and then defended Facebook as a social-networking site first was effective in adding to your post. As a Facebook user myself, I wanted to add to the discourse. I think Facebook is an extremly effective tool for social-networking, and the study is a little bit off the mark. I think they should have shifted the focus of their study to cover the degree to which Facebook affects social interaction and self-perception on a larger scale instead of limiting their research to narcissism exclusively, which is a very subjective topic with many gray areas. Awesome post and cool topic!

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