Facebook, narcissism and low self esteem

by Walter van den Broek, MD, PhD

In normal every day life with face to face contact, the physical characteristics and knowledge about social background form the identity of your contact.

It’s stable and three dimensional. You know that person, it’s therefor very difficult for the other to claim another identity or create impressions inconsistent with how you know him or her. Online identity is a different topic. You can create ideal identities not necessarily overlapping your real identity. It’s a controlled setting in which you can create different identities from the person you really are. Moreover, from research it has been shown that people act differently in social networking environments when compared to those interacting in anonymous settings. Online self representation can vary according to the nature of the setting.

What is the relationship between offline personality and online self representation on Facebook?

A recent study looked at the effects of narcissism and self esteem on online social activity and self promotion. The researchers included 50 male and 50 female Facebook owners, they were randomly recruited at York University, their age ranged from 18 to 25 years. The Facebook pages were rated and the participants took 4 questionnaires about demographic information, Facebook activity, self esteem (the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale) and narcissism (the Narcissism Personality Inventory):

Five features of the Facebook page were coded for the extent to which they were self-promoting: (a) the About Me section, (b) the Main Photo, (c) the first 20 pictures on the View Photos of Me section, (d) the Notes section, and (e) the Status Updates section.

Self promotion was distinguished as any descriptive or visual information that appeared to attempt to persuade others about one’s own positive qualities. For instance, posting ‘‘My celebrity look-alikes,” or use of picture enhancement.

They found a strong relationship between narcissism and lower self esteem with greater Facebook activity as well as more promotional self content. Gender did not influence these relationships.

This is another study implying that narcissism can be detected in Facebook, the previous study is also discussed here: The Dangers of Facebook. Gender differences were found in another study but on risk taking attitudes. Men with profiles on social networking sites are higher in risk taking behavior and less worried about privacy issues compared to women.

Walter van den Broek is a psychiatrist who blogs at Dr. Shock MD PhD.

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  • Finn

    It would be interesting to see a second study comparing Facebook users of different age groups. My (admittedly unscientific) impression is that narcissism is generally higher among 18-25 year olds than among older adults, & that it tends to decrease with age.

  • http://www.aneurysmsupport.com/ Mike

    I use facebook to promote my website, so several times a week I make a posting or answer messages. Facebook, in my opinion, is full of the most useless material anywhere on the internet. Many of its users give me the impression of being attention starved and very lonely. In some ways it is very sad.

  • http://www.shockmd.com Dr Shock MD PhD

    @Finn Excellent argument, most character traits even personality disorders disappear with increasing age, not all though

    @Mike Facebook to my opinion can be used to promote activitreis such as bloging but for most people Facebook is for connecting with friends and families

    Take care Walter

  • gzuckier

    Facebook is following the MySpace path, getting overloaded with detritus; when the lake finally silts up completely, the fish will move elsewhere. For my money, it was always more toy than tool.

    I predict the next casualty of popularity among people with nothing to say looking for a place to say it will be Linkedin.

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