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Facebook users with a large number of Facebook friends and wallposts are more likely to be narcissists, according to a new University of Georgia study.
Laura Buffardi, a doctoral student in psychology, and University of Georgia associate professor W. Keith Campbell surveyed 130 Facebook users, analyzed their Facebook pages, and asked untrained strangers to assess the page creators' narcissism. Their findings, which will appear in October in the academic journal Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, indicate that the number of Facebook friends and wallposts one has correlates with narcissism.
Campbell, in a University of Georgia news release, said that narcissism hinders the ability to form healthy long-term relationships. "Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage," he said. "They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run."
Facebook use that emphasizes self-promotion and friend quantity over quality is what Campbell considers to be narcissism.
The researchers chose Facebook because of its popularity and because of the fixed format of its social profiles, which makes comparison easier.
Narcissism severe enough to be classified as a disorder -- narcissistic personality disorder -- is defined thus by the Mayo Clinic: "Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism."
The concept of narcissism in the study is not as extreme.
In an e-mail, Buffardi said that there's been a lot of confusion about how narcissism is defined in psychology literature. "Importantly, we define narcissism as a normal personality trait, not a clinical disorder," she said. "Narcissism, conceptualized as a 'normal' personality variable, is distinct from narcissistic personality disorder described in the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Trait narcissism, as we operationalize it with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory in the Facebook study, does correlate significantly with clinicians' and clinical researchers' prototypes of NPD. [When] we use the term 'narcissists,' we are using it as a shorthand for 'high narcissism scores.' Those with high narcissism scores generally have an overly positive view of the self. High narcissism scores are also associated with positive and inflated self-views of traits like intelligence, power, and physical attractiveness as well as a pervasive sense of uniqueness and entitlement. Research has shown both positive and negative outcomes are associated with this trait."
Buffardi argues that use of social networking sites to keep in touch with friends and relatives isn't inherently narcissistic. While narcissists may also have these goals, she said, "The difference is that we've found that narcissists portray themselves in narcissistic ways on their profiles and nonnarcissists (i.e., those with lower narcissism scores) do not generally do this."
The study doesn't draw a line between narcissistic and nonnarcissist behavior online. "All of the measures used in this study are continuous," said Buffardi. "That is to say our data does not suggest a dichotomous separation between a reasonable and unreasonable number of friends. What we know from our data is that those who have higher narcissism scores generally have a greater number of Facebook friends."
Facebook users wishing not to be seen as narcissistic should opt for casual, ill-lit snapshots over glamorous, professional profile pictures. For the untrained strangers surveyed, "the impression of narcissism is based primarily on the number of social interactions along with the extent to which the Web page owner appears to be self-promoting and attractive in his or her main photo," according to the study.
The study also found that unlike in the real world, where narcissists tend to be the life of the party, Facebook narcissists aren't very witty. "The narcissists' quotes were judged to be less entertaining than those of nonnarcissists," the study says, though it cautions that clumsy quips could just be inside jokes that went over the heads of the surveyed strangers.