Researchers at the University of Georgia gave personality questionnaires to nearly 130 Facebook users and analyzed the content of their online profiles. They also had untrained observers look at the profiles and rate how narcissistic, or excessively egotistical, the owners of the profiles were.
The results of the study are detailed in the October issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers found that the number of friends and wall posts (messages left by the owner of the profile or friends) that a person had on their profile correlated with how narcissistic they were. Study leader Laura Buffardi, a Ph.D. student in psychology, said this is similar to how narcissists behave in the real world, forming numerous but shallow relationships with others.
Narcissistic Facebook users were also more likely to have glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photo, while others tended to use snapshots, the study found. The untrained observers also noted the differences in photos and amount of social interaction.
“We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others,” Buffardi said.
Narcissism hampers a person’s ability to form healthy, long-term relationships, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell.
“Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage,” Campbell said. “They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run.”
In the past, research has found that personal Web pages are more popular among narcissists, but this doesn’t mean that all Facebook users are narcissists.
“Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions,” Campbell said. “It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships – for self-promotion with an emphasis on quantity over quality.”