Facebook is a mirror and Twitter is a megaphone, according to a new University of Michigan study in Computers in Human Behavior that explores how social media reflect and amplify narcissism.
The researchers examined whether narcissism was related to the amount of daily Facebook and Twitter posting and to the amount of time spent on each social media site. Two sets of subjects were involved: 486 mostly female college undergraduates, and 93 adults, mostly white females, with an average age of 35.
"Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissism posted more often on Twitter," said researcher Elliot Panek. "But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook."
According to Panek, Facebook serves narcissistic adults as a mirror. "It's about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image," he said. "Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles."
For narcissistic college students, Panek said the social media tool of choice is the megaphone of Twitter. "Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions. Through Twitter, they're trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues."
The researchers believe the study shows that narcissistic college students and their adult counterparts use social media in different ways to boost their egos and control others' perceptions of them. "It's important to analyze how often social media users actually post updates on sites, along with how much time they spend reading the posts and comments of others," Panek said.
Although the study is among the first to compare the relationship between narcissism and different kinds of social media in different age groups, the question as to whether narcissism leads to increased use of social media, or whether social media use promotes narcissism, remains unanswered.
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Source: University of Michigan