Are Social Media Sites Making Us All Self-Promoting Narcissists?

How many times did you tweet today or check your Facebook page? What about your latest YouTube video? Why do we enjoy reality shows like “Real Housewives,” watching those who are self-absorbed? What happened to the story writers and sitcoms with stories that have meaning or a moral? These were the questions asked by researchers in a featured article in the American Psychological Association’s monthly periodical.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration and a lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. They routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. They are often preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love. They may ruminate about “long overdue” admiration and privilege and compare themselves favorably with famous or privileged people. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), less than 1% of the general population that has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and of that, 50-75% is male.

According to some researchers, narcissistic personality traits are more common in today’s population. Self-esteem is on the rise, with 80 percent of middle-school students scoring higher in self-esteem in 2006 than the average middle-school student in 1988, according to a study in the Review of General Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 3). Other studies suggest that among college students, subclinical levels of narcissism have steadily risen since the 1970s. (APA Monitor)

A cross-temporal meta-analysis found that levels of narcissism have risen over the generations in 85 samples of American college students who completed the 40-item forced-choice Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between 1979 and 2006. Almost two-thirds of recent college students are above the mean 1979–1985 narcissism score, a 30% increase. These results complement previous studies finding increases in other individualistic traits such as assertiveness, agency, self-esteem, and extraversion (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell & Bushman, 2008). Some credit the rise to such individualistic traits to social networking websites, which give individuals a forum to promote themselves. One researcher believes that the Internet encourages people to constantly promote themselves and broadcast the minutiae of their lives on blogs and through social media. (APA Monitor) Further, those with narcissism are predicted to have higher levels of social activity online with more self-promoting content. It is important to note that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often confused with “really high” self-esteem.

However, there is a difference: individuals with NPD do have high self-esteem, but they emphasize being better than others, and devalue morality, compassion and thoughtfulness. Thus, an individual with NPD most likely would not brag about having strong character traits. Rather, they would point out that they are winners and highlight someone else’s loss. Individuals with NPD are missing the piece about caring for others, which is why their self-admiration often spins out of control.

Sadie F. Dingfelder, “Are Young People More Self-Obsessed Than Ever Before?”, APA Monitor, February 2011, Vol. 42, No.2, p. 64.

Jean M. Twenge, Sara Knorath, Joshua D. Foster, W. Keith Campbell, Brad J. Bushman, “Egos Inflatings Over Time: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory,” Journal of Personality, Vol. 76, No.4, pp. 875-901.

Laura E. Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell, “Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, October 2008, Vol. 10, pp. 1303-1314.

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