Sample Research Paper: Narcissism and its Effect on Social Media Image

Research PaperPsychology

The social impact of the Internet has made social media an integral part of everyday life. Unfortunately, social media also became a platform that satisfies and rewards narcissistic behaviors. Researchers have found that some narcissistic traits are common among regular individuals. Frequent social media users tend to possess certain narcissistic traits that motivate their online activities. However, possessing some of these traits does not mean that an individual has Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD (Cleveland Clinic, n.d.) Psychiatrists only diagnose individuals with NPD if they possess five narcissistic traits. Most NPD patients tend to have experienced traumatic events such as child abuse that develop into personality disorders.

Narcissistic behaviors include a great sense of self-importance, constant thoughts of being successful, feeling of superiority, associating with high-status individuals, looking for excessive affirmations, lack of empathy, and an extremely arrogant attitude. Individuals with narcissistic behaviors tend to develop attention-seeking behaviors. This is one reason why they heavily use social media (Patrick, 2005). This literature review will examine the effects of narcissism on social media image and aim to find the correlation between narcissistic behaviors and portrayal on social media sites.

Bergman et al (2011) conducted a study where they examined the relationship between narcissism and the motivation for Social Networking Sites or SNS. They also took note of the different types of activities that people frequently engage in on the websites. The study learned that narcissistic tendencies are related to the factors of why the current generation of youth uses SNS. Individuals want to have several online friends. They want to inform these friends of their accomplishments. They may also believe that these friends constantly follow their activities. Individuals using SNS want to show a positive image of themselves. They see social media as the best platform where they can seek attention and where they can receive affirmations from other people.

Bergman et al. (2011) studied 374 undergraduate students. The participants took an online survey regarding narcissism. The majority of the respondents were millennials with a mean age of 20.77. Bergman et al. (2011) noted that not everyone who uses social media is a clinical narcissist. The study examined how narcissistic behaviors could lead to unique activities in the platforms. These activities include the portrayal of vanity, promoting self, manipulating public image, and attention-seeking behaviors. The study showed that individuals with narcissistic behaviors tend to manipulate their social media images to portray themselves in a positive way. The narcissistic behaviors are due to the attention-seeking symptom of NPD. The individual wants to gain the approval of their friends and therefore manipulates their image to gain affirmation.

Edwards (2017) conducted another study that investigated the attention-seeking behavior of social media users. The researchers studied the online behaviors of 140 participants who were 25 years old and above. The researchers used an online survey to obtain data about the participants’ Facebook activities. They also used Facebook to predict factors that lead to certain social behaviors as well as to examine the relationship between attention-seeking tendencies and SNS. The researchers took into account the kind of posts, the representation of images, and the idea behind the participants’ online activities. The result implied that individuals with narcissistic behaviors would often post images that grant them positive responses from their online friends. The study also indicated that narcissistic behaviors drive individuals into manipulating their public image to receive positive feedback on social media. Narcissistic behaviors led individuals to create a false portrayal of themselves to gain affirmation from their online friends.

Buffardi & Campbell (2008) began a similar study that evaluated social media profile contents in comparison to the user’s personality. The researchers showed the profiles of narcissistic individuals to strangers. During the study, the strangers judged the profiles as highly narcissistic due to high degrees of social interaction and the attractiveness of posted photos. The results indicated that narcissistic behaviors led to increased social media activity and self-promoting behaviors. Individuals with narcissistic behaviors demonstrated extensive social media interaction and the use of attractive photos for self-promotion to gain affirmations from others. The study linked self-promotion in social media with narcissistic tendencies.

Wickel’s (2015) research also found that millennials use social media to enhance their self-perception. The researcher gathered data through an online survey of 93 female college students who frequently use social media. The researcher found out that millennials tend to portray a public image that will catch the attention of their social media friends. The study concluded that taking and posting “selfies” on social media is indicative of narcissistic behaviors. The study also implied that an individual’s desire to seek public approval for self-affirmation is suggestive of narcissistic social media behaviors.

Dinkha (2017) researched the association between self-esteem and narcissistic behaviors on social media. The researcher examined the biography, profiles, and posted photos of narcissistic individuals. The participants of the study were youths from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. These are two countries that heavily use social media. Similar to other studies, the research revealed that individuals use self-promotion to portray a positive image on social media. The research concluded that narcissistic tendencies are predictors of social media behaviors. With this, researchers believe that narcissism is a driving factor of social networking behaviors that seek to portray a positive image for public affirmation.

Davenport et al. (2014) were another group of researchers that investigated the relationship between narcissism and social media image. Their research report discussed the result of their study regarding the usage of Facebook and Twitter among college students and adults. The researchers found out that narcissistic individuals express their narcissistic intentions through their tweets while Facebook offers them more ways to express the same motive. The study suggests that there is a stronger relationship between Twitter and narcissistic behaviors in comparison with Facebook. Also, narcissism led to a stronger desire to seek a large social media audience and approval among adults than college students. The research connected the desire to get many followers on Twitter and Facebook to narcissistic behaviors. This desire led individuals to adopt tendencies that positively helped their social media image and attract more followers.

DeWall et al. (2011) found that narcissists adopt a particular language style that prefers first-person pronouns for self-description. The study aimed to examine attention-seeking behaviors, narcissism, and social media usage. The study also discussed that narcissistic people tend to use sexy and self-promoting photos on their social media profiles. The researcher learned that narcissistic individuals use a certain language style to help catch public attention and put focus on themselves. The language style often involves the heavy use of “I” and “me”. Narcissistic individuals also tend to use specific words for their self-description.  These words are common among narcissistic individuals since they help create a positive image of themselves. The study determined that self-seeking behaviors lead narcissistic individuals to manipulate their public image and create a positive portrayal of themselves. 

Andreassen et al. (2017) conducted research that concluded how narcissistic tendencies can lead to social media addiction. Narcissistic behaviors make an individual require to satisfy their ego and eliminate any negative perception of themselves. Due to this, narcissistic individuals tend to heavily use social media. The instant positive feedback that these individuals receive on their social media profiles enhances their ego and self-image. This leads individuals to rely heavily on the platform to receive affirmation and satisfy their narcissistic tendencies. They frequently update their profiles and show their achievements to create their desired image of themselves. Their need to create a positive public image drives all of these actions which eventually leads to social media addiction.

Utz (2012) examined how online behaviors like self-grooming, SNS profile enhancement, SNS friend acquisition, showing emotions online, and heavy use of SNS relate to narcissistic behaviors, specifically the need for popularity. The study found out that these behaviors lead to a positive image on social media which helps satisfy an individual’s need for popularity. The need for popularity became a consistent predictor of the stated behaviors among narcissistic individuals. The study concluded that the need for popularity is a significant factor in social media usage.

Similar to DeWall et al. (2011), Golbeck’s (2016) research revealed that narcissists adopt a specific language in social media. The language that they use helps in their attention-seeking activities. The study found out that people with narcissistic behaviors tend to use words that show negative emotions or anger. Narcissistic individuals tend to embrace anti-social ideas and negative perceptions about life. These negative ideas allow them to catch people’s attention online. The researchers found that anti-social language on Twitter increases user engagement. The language includes the use of angry words and curse words. The study showed narcissists can use language as a tool to manipulate their social media image and satisfy their attention-seeking behaviors.

The findings from the various studies show that narcissism affects how an individual portray themselves in social media. The studies show that narcissism can lead an individual to create either a positive or negative portrayal of themselves. Some narcissistic individuals use attractive photos while some utilize negative emotions to seek attention. It is important to note that narcissistic individuals tend to manipulate their public image to receive attention. The researchers determined that the need for self-affirmation and popularity affects an individual’s social media image. Narcissism results in increased social media activity and the manipulation of a positive or negative public image.

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Andreassen, C. S., Pallesen, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 287-293.

Bergman, S. M., Fearrington, M. E., Davenport, S. W., & Bergman, J. Z. (2011). Millennials, narcissism, and social networking: What narcissists do on social networking sites and why. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(5), 706-711.

Buffardi, L. E., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking web sites. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 34(10), 1303-1314.

Davenport, S. W., Bergman, S. M., Bergman, J. Z., & Fearrington, M. E. (2014). Twitter versus Facebook: Exploring the role of narcissism in the motives and usage of different social media platforms. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 212-220.

DeWall, C. N., Buffardi, L. E., Bonser, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2011). Narcissism and implicit attention seeking: Evidence from linguistic analyses of social networking and online presentation. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(1), 57-62.

Dinkha J. (2017). The Online Looking Glass: The Study of Self Esteem and Narcissism on Social Media. Psychol Behav Sci Int J. 7(1): 555705. DOI: 10.19080/PBSIJ.2017.07.555705.

Edwards, F. (2017). An Investigation of Attention-Seeking Behavior through Social Media Post Framing.

Golbeck, J. (2016). Negativity and anti-social attention-seeking among narcissists on Twitter: A linguistic analysis. First Monday.

(n.d.). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Cleveland Clinic.

Patrick, C. (2005). Handbook of Psychopathy. New York: Guilford Publications.

Utz, S., Tanis, M., & Vermeulen, I. (2012). It is all about being popular: The effects of need for popularity on social network site use.

Wickel, T. M. (2015). Narcissism and social networking sites: the act of taking selfies. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6(1).

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