Narcissism And Social Networks
June 12, 2013

Vanity Revealed: Facebook Is A Mirror And Twitter A Megaphone

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Though they are both social networks, Facebook and Twitter could not be more different in many ways. One is packed full of games, pictures and relationships. The other is filled with links and short bursts of information and opinions. Yet as social networks, they have both had significant effects on how we communicate and, ultimately, how we view ourselves.

Now a new study from the University of Michigan (UM) has quantified why different age groups use these mediums and how they use them. To put it plainly, the UM research team claim that Facebook is a mirror and Twitter a megaphone, though different age groups use them in different ways.

"Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissism posted more often on Twitter," said Elliot Panek, who recently received a doctorate from UM. "But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook."

Adult narcissists on the other hand prefer to use Facebook to let others know more about them – how they feel, what they think, and what they´re up to. The research team found that Facebook is better used by these adults because they already have their social circles defined. Therefore they curate the ideal image they´d like to have for themselves and rather then send off short 140-character rants about their beliefs, likes and dislikes, they prefer to maintain the reputation they´ve already earned from their peers and gain social acceptance.

Younger narcissists, such as college students, prefer to use Twitter as a megaphone. Here they can broadcast their feelings to the world while finding other social circles of like-minded individuals and join in on going conversations about whatever they feel is important.

"Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions," Panek said. “Through Twitter, they're trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues."

The researchers were also curious if the participants in the study were growing more narcissistic as a result of their social networking usage, or if they were only looking for an outlet for their self-centered ways.

To conduct their research, Panek and team found 486 undergraduates, the majority of which were female around 19-years old. These participants answered questions about their use of social media and took a personality survey to assess their narcissism, self-sufficiency, exploitativeness and other traits. Next, the researchers found another group of 93 adults, mostly white females aged 35-years old and asked them to complete a survey.

After compiling the data, Panek says adults ultimately use social networks to display their narcissism, albeit in different ways.

"It's important to analyze how often social media users actually post updates on sites, along with how much time they spend reading the posts and comments of others," he said.

As for whether social networks lead to narcissism or vice versa, Panek´s study was inconclusive.

This study is now published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Panek was joined in his research by fellow UM researchers Yioryos Nardis and Sara Konrath.