What do narcissists teach their children

Narcissism on the Net

Social media like Facebook and Twitter play a big role in the lives of many people around the world. Almost two billion people were active on Facebook at the end of 2016; 500 million regularly post pictures on Instagram, more than 300 million communicate via Twitter.

The extent to which people with a narcissistic streak prefer to use social media has been investigated by numerous studies in recent years - with contradicting results. Sometimes the connection between narcissism and appearances on Facebook, Twitter and Co. was clearly given, sometimes only weakly verifiable and sometimes it even turned into the opposite.

Most comprehensive evaluation of studies to date

Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg and the University of Würzburg are now presenting new results. They were able to show that there is a weak to moderately strong association between a certain form of narcissism and activities on social media. A differentiated view of certain behaviors or the origin of the participants even shows a pronounced effect in some cases.

Responsible for this study are Professor Markus Appel, Chair of Media Communication at the University of Würzburg, and Dr. Timo Gnambs, head of the Educational Measurement department at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories, Bamberg. For their meta-analysis, they summarized the results from 57 studies with a total of more than 25,000 participants. You now have your results in Journal of Personality released.

What defines narcissists

You consider yourself particularly gifted, remarkable and successful. They love to present themselves in front of others and need confirmation from third parties: This is how psychologists describe the typical behavior of people who are commonly referred to as narcissists. "Accordingly, it is assumed that social networks like Facebook offer an ideal stage for them," says Markus Appel.

You can easily find a large number of addressees in the network; there they can specifically disclose the information about themselves that fits their concept. And they can meticulously fine-tune their self-image. It is therefore no wonder that the fear arose early on in science that social networks could virtually hatch narcissists.

Three hypotheses

The situation is apparently not that bad, as the recently published meta-analysis shows. The two scientists examined three hypotheses for their truthfulness. On the one hand, the thesis that boastful narcissists can be found more frequently in social networks than representatives of another form of narcissism - the so-called "vulnerable narcissism". The latter are characterized by a high degree of insecurity, an oversensitivity in dealing with other people and the urge to withdraw from the public.

The second thesis says that the relationship between narcissism and the number of friends and certain self-presentation activities is significantly greater - compared to the other activities that are possible in social networks.

In their third hypothesis, the scientists claim that the link between narcissism and online behavior is subject to cultural influences. In cultures where the individual counts less than the community or where roles are clearly defined, social media offer narcissists the opportunity to break out of this framework of rules and present themselves in ways that would not be possible for them in public .

The results

In fact, the evaluation of the 57 studies confirms the scientists' hypotheses. Cocky narcissists are more common on social networks than "vulnerable narcissists". And the greater the number of friends and the more often someone uploads pictures of themselves, the greater the likelihood that they are a narcissist. The gender of the users is irrelevant; Age also shows no influence. Typical narcissists spend more time in their network than the average visitor and they show typical behavior patterns there.

The result for the influence of culture on user behavior is divided. "In countries in which pronounced social hierarchies and an unequal distribution of power are on average more accepted, such as India or Malaysia, the correlation between narcissism and behavior in social media is more pronounced than in countries such as Austria or the USA," says Markus Appel.

However, the analysis of the data from 16 different countries on four continents did not show a comparable influence of the factor “individualism”.

Generation Me

So is the much-cited “Generation Me” a product of social networks like Facebook and Instagram because they promote narcissistic tendencies? Or are their representatives there anyway and only find the ideal playground for them on these pages? The two scientists could not really answer these questions with their study.

"We suspect that the relationship between narcissism and behavior in social media follows the pattern of a self-reinforcing spiral," says Markus Appel. An individual disposition controls the network activities; these activities in turn increased the disposition. In order to finally clarify this question, however, further investigations over longer periods of time are necessary.

Narcissism an Social Networking Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. Timo Gnambs and Markus Appel. Journal of Personality. DOI: 10.1111 / jopy.12305


Prof. Dr. Markus Appel, Chair for Media Communication
T: +49 931 31-88106, [email protected]

By Gunnar Bartsch