Having a lot of Facebook friends and posting frequent updates on the social networking site has a significant psychological “dark side,” a provocative new study suggests.
Researchers at Western Illinois University have linked obsessive Facebook use not only to narcissism but the “toxic” version of the personality trait. Researchers defined “toxic narcissism” as a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”
The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, confirms what many social media skeptics have argued: Online networking sites like Facebook are the perfect vehicle for self-absorbed narcissists obsessed with self-image and numerous shallow friendships.
Christopher Carpenter, the Western Illinois University communications specialist who led the study, said it provides the first scientific evidence that Facebook is “a gateway for hundreds of shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication.” Social media sites also allow users “a great deal of control over how he or she is presented to and perceived by peers and other users,” he added, in a release on the study’s findings.
"If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them,” Carpenter said. “Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking.”
Carpenter’s study -- “Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior” – tracked the online habits of 292 individuals, most of them college students. Researchers measured participants’ self-promotional Facebook behaviors, such as posting frequent status updates, photos of oneself and updating profile information.
The team also tracked several anti-social behaviors among the participants, such as seeking social support more often than providing it, getting angry when others did not comment on status updates and retaliating against negative comments.
In addition, participants answered questions from the so-called “Narcissistic Personality Inventory” (NPI) – a standard test used by psychologists to assess individuals with unhealthy levels of self-obsession.
Researchers found Facebook users who engaged in more self-promotional and anti-social online activities scored highest in several categories measured by the NPI.
Participants who posted more self-promotional items were likely to demonstrate “grandiose exhibitionism” – a psychological trait characterized by vanity, superiority, self-absorption and exhibitionistic tendencies. Those who were most anti-social in their Facebook activities were more likely to demonstrate “entitlement/exploitativeness” traits – a classification used by psychologists to define people who have a need to demand respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others, Carpenter explained.
"In general, the 'dark side' of Facebook requires more research,” Carpenter said, “in order to better understand Facebook's socially beneficial and harmful aspects in order to enhance the former and curtail the latter.”