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Narcissists on Facebook: We're On to You

We all should know by now not to put stuff on our Facebook profiles that might someday come back to bite us on the behind: no pictures of ourselves doing drugs, skipping work, or dancing naked on the table. (For more examples of what not to post on line, see this story that circulated earlier this week.)

Photo courtesy of Facebook
But a new study suggests that, even if we're careful what we post, our Facebook pages might reveal more about ourselves than we realize.

Researchers at the University of Georgia set out to discover whether people who were narcissists in real life could be identified as such simply by the way they crafted their Facebook profiles. Lead author Laura Buffardi, a doctoral student in psychology who co-wrote the study with associate professor W. Keith Campbell, did personality assessments of 129 Facebook users (all students at the university) to determine whether they qualified as narcissists -- self-promoting, self-aggrandizing people who often seem charming and easily attract other people but don't typically form warm or lasting relationships. (One could argue that the very act of establishing a presence on Facebook, as I have done, is an act of narcissism, but that's a topic for another study.)

The researchers, whose work appears in the October issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, then analyzed the participants' Facebook profiles and had untrained strangers do the same. They found that the number of "Friends" on a person's Facebook and the number of "wallposts" they have there correlated with their narcissism. That figures, Buffardi suggests, as narcissists tend to have lots of shallow relationships rather than a few solid ones. Narcissists on Facebook also tended to post more glamorous photos of themselves in their profiles. (Thank goodness my photo's so frumpy!)

It's interesting to see how narcissism plays out on the on-line social networking scene, in which millions of teens, young adults, and even full-grown folks like me take part. But the really fascinating, and perhaps scary, thing is to think about the implications beyond this study. If researchers can look at my Facebook page and make an educated guess that I'm a narcissist, what else might they be able to discern? That I prefer dogs to cats? That I'm a closet Libertarian?

What do you make of this Facebook/personality trait connection? Interesting party game? Mountain out of a molehill? Or is it a serious concern?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Psychology  
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It is not a concern, because of after all, Facebook is a social network. But you can tell a lot about people by what they post and how they post. So it's interesting as a sociological/psychological study.

Posted by: Bev | September 26, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

i wish there was a capability to post this article directly to facebook. ha!

Posted by: faye | September 26, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Interesting to note people are so paranoid about privacy issues and identity theft, but post the most intimate, private matters of their life on line so millions can read it. I think Facebook is for those seriously lonely people who also post ads in the personals column. What's the purpose of posting all your friends on the web? Just to see who has the most? Sounds rather sad and shallow to me.

I know of one woman who had a website devoted to the progress of her pregnancy. Even posted photos on-line of her IN A BIKINI at various stages of pregnancy, along with photos of the actual birth. A little too much information for my taste. I can image the looney tunes who sent messages to her!

Posted by: TGIF | September 26, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

if you find it sad or TMI then don't look! it also sounds like you've never even looked at facebook, so it's pretty "sad" that you would draw a conclusion based on no actual experience.

Posted by: pssst | September 26, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that if one has ACTUAL, flesh-and-blood friends, one doesn't need to collect virtual ones...

Posted by: getalife | September 26, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

This study shows a correlation, but I don't know why it would constitute a serious concern. There's no evidence that Facebook causes narcissism. For some, it's a chance to flaunt their assets and friends. For most of us, it's a chance to send someone a message when you're not sure of their email address and a place to post pictures if someone wants to look at them.

Posted by: Angela | September 26, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

129 users from the same school and probably economic strata? Not a very wide sample is it?
This article is shallow-er than the people it attempted to expose.

Posted by: Freak, Super. Esq. | September 26, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

These social networking sites reflect the population, so, yeah, there are individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder on there in approximately the same percentage as there are in everyday society.

Posted by: Fluxgirl | September 26, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I figure my facebook profile is a narcissistic distraction, not anything real. I have lots of people who's faces or names I barely recognize, and people I haven't seen in 20-25 years who popped up through the app and so I added them. It isn't really reflective of who I am outside the app any more than my world of warcraft character was.

Posted by: mary | September 26, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't care I DO flaunt the most flattering pictures of myself on facebook, in fact I have three photo albums of me called the EGOTIST 1, 2, 3 so what? facebook gives me an opportunity NOT to spend all my time amongst people I don't want to, and yet, grants me the opportunity to get to know them, and things about them that they, are willing to share. If I'm a narcissist then so be long as my narcissism does "no harm"... I'm cool. And honestly, its done my self-esteem a world of good...Its a matter of opinion.

Posted by: charles | September 27, 2008 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Wow! I guess I actually am a narcissist! I always sort of knew that, though. I have a part time posting dumpy, unedited pictures of myself. I don't want people to judge me the way I judge them!

Posted by: Thomas | September 27, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

99% of people could care less about anything you post on facebook. In fact you are an egotistical low life if you even have an account of facebook.
No one cares about what you did that day or some stupid outfit you just bought. NO ONE CARES!

Posted by: anon | September 29, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

This article, however brief, highlights the fascinating link between online networking sites and our own psychology. And yes, there are other studies on this subject.

It's no surprise we come across people online who are lonely or narcissistic. These sites are viewed as a kind of celebrity to people. Although a profile can reflect both loneliness & narcissism, it likely encourages both as well.

To the person who bashes the online folks who talk about 'trivial' matters, take a chill pill! Posting little details of one's day (or pictures of one's pregnancy) is likely therapeutic to some- let's not be so critical of that. No need for anger, being weird and tacky isn't a crime.

Posted by: Spencer | October 3, 2008 3:15 AM | Report abuse

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