Narcissus Takes a Selfie

You may have heard that "selfitis" -- the inflammation of one's ego, as evidenced by taking too many "selfies" -- is a mental disorder according to the APA. Unfortunately this "news" story went viral before it was discovered to be a hoax. Clearly people are fascinated with the growing phenomenon of taking pictures of ourselves. The Oxford English Dictionary, in recognition of this trend, made "selfie" the Word of the Year in 2013.

Selfies generate strong emotions. According to Forbes, we love to hate them. Perhaps this is because selfies are inherently narcissistic. Every narcissist needs a pool to reflect their beauty, and social networking sites like Facebook allow us to fall in love with images of ourselves.

But are we being too hasty in associating social-networking sites with narcissistic behavior? To find out, we conducted a study of over 400 individuals and asked them a range of questions about their Facebook behaviors, including how many hours per day did they spend on Facebook, and the number of times they updated their status per day. We also asked participants to rate their profile picture in terms of whether they were physically attractive, cool, glamorous, and fashionable.

To assess how narcissistic they were, we gave them a highly reliable narcissism test, where they had to choose between statements that best described them. For example, they had to decide between "I like to be the center of attention" or " I prefer to blend in with the crowd."

Only one Facebook behavior accurately predicted narcissism levels: their profile picture ratings. Narcissistic individuals have an exaggerated view of their attractiveness and want to share it with the world. The profile picture is the most tangible aspect of a user's online self-presentation, making it a touchstone for narcissists seeking to draw attention to themselves.

The differences between the sexes are fascinating. While men were more narcissistic, according to the test, narcissistic women were more likely to rate their profile pictures as more physically attractive, glamorous, and cool. This may mean that narcissistic women are more likely to use Facebook as a reflecting pool than are narcissistic males.

However, it is worth noting that many other Facebook activities were not linked to narcissism. The number of friends they had and even how often they posted photos of themselves were not related to narcissistic tendencies. This pattern suggests that while Facebook may be a tool for narcissists, it is more than just a reflecting pool.

Read the full 2014 journal article, "Is Facebook Linked to Selfishness? Investigating the Relationships Among Social Media Use, Empathy, and Narcissism," here.