From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 6 NO. 1
Narcissism and Social Networking Sites: The Act of Taking Selfies
Asked about their daily Internet usage, specifically their daily use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, 73.5% of 93 Elon University respondents reported that they check or update their online profiles more than five times a day, as shown in Figure 1 below, followed by those who checked their profiles four or five times a day (12.6%).
Nearly all the participants in this survey (97.8%) reported that they determine another person’s popularity based on how many “likes” or comments that person’s profile picture or status update receives. Additionally, 90.2% of the survey participants reported that they post pictures of themselves to social networking sites for the sole reason of receiving “likes” and comments from their online friends. However, only 15.7% of participants expressed that they have or would take a picture down from a social networking platform if they did not receive enough positive feedback, and the majority of participants (60.3%) said that they would allow the photo to remain on the platform.
When participants were asked an open-ended question if they thought that posting selfies to various social networking platforms encouraged their narcissism and selfish behaviors, the respondents had a wide variety of answers. More than half (55%) answered with a definitive “yes.” Selected answers to this openended question included the following:
There were negative answers, too:
The author analyzed and coded all the responses of the participants who responded yes to this openended question, and found the five most common reasons that these participants believe posting selfies to social networking platforms has increased narcissism and selfishness. As shown in Table 1, the highest number of participants mentioned that they sought to impress their online friends by sharing their social experiences. Participants were also highly likely to post to social media in order to receive as many likes as possible from their audience.
The responses received through this survey were similar to those in the 2013 Pew Research study previously mentioned. Consistent with the 2013 Pew Research study, the findings from this survey suggest that Millennials believe that social networking sites are essential to their social life. Additionally, responses from this survey supported the Pew Research study’s conclusion that Millennials base social status on the number of “likes” their photo receives on a social networking site. As a way to acquire the maximum number of likes, Facebook users will manipulate and change their profile content. This is an indicator of narcissism in that respondents of the survey partake in an incessant need to pursue adoration from others, and to participate in egotistical thinking and behavior (Panek, Nardis & Konrath, 2013).
A recurring reason for posting selfies to their online profiles was that the participants believe they look attractive in their photo, and they want others to perceive them as such. These reasons have been distinguished in various studies noted in the literature review and are an identifier of narcissism and selfish behaviors. Millenials who use social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, often develop their online profiles so that they are able to achieve their desired social identity (Gabriel, 2014). The data in Table 1 supports the idea that narcissism is linked to social networking usage and activity.
Despite the high correlation between selfies and narcissism, many respondents argued that selfies did not promote narcissistic behavior. As shown in Table 2, the most common reason for this belief was that they are simply keeping friends and family up to date on their lives, followed by keeping memories and feeling good about themselves. Contrary to their argument, all three most common reasons can be interpreted as indicators of narcissistic behavior.
Previous studies judged posting images to social networking platforms because users believe people are genuinely interested is an indicator of narcissistic behavior (Alloway, Runac, Qureshi & Kemp, 2014). However, participants may not be aware that they are demonstrating behaviors that are associated with narcissism (Carpenter, 2012). Previous studies suggest that narcissism is recognized in combination with the use of individual communication as a technique for self-enhancement and self-promotion (Panek, Nardis & Konrath, 2013).
The most common reason participants responded “no” was the thought that posting selfies allows them to keep friends and family updated. This reason could easily be noted as an aspect of self-promotion, which correlates with narcissism. As distinguished in the literature review, this reason could be perceived as a way for the participants to keep the focus of their profiles content undeniably on themselves, which is seen as a narcissistic act (Aboujaoude, 2011).
Another common reason, “Posting selfies to social networking platforms makes me feel good about myself,” is an undeniable indicator of narcissism. Regardless of whether the respondents admit to it or not, they are participating in these selfish behaviors. They feel this way because posting selfies to social networking sites boosts their self-confidence and overall thoughts about themselves. This response correlates with the Pew Research study’s conclusion that 52% of adolescents online express they have had an experience through a social networking site that boosted their confidence (Duggan & Smith, 2013). Relying on social networking sites as a way to make a person feel good about themselves indicates self-important behaviors associated with narcissism.
Almost all participants (87.8%) responded that the use of social networking platforms as a way to maintain and build social relationships has changed how society interacts and perceives others. The majority of participants (60.6%) also determined that the Millennial Generation puts too much energy and effort into creating their online persona. Among participants, only a quarter (25.4%) reported that they believe an online profile is a true depiction of a person.
The Millennial Generation uses social media to generate and maintain not only personal relationships, but also their own idealized personas. With social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter being their main channel for social interaction, it is not surprising to find that many Millennials feel the need to present themselves in ways that attract the most attention from their peers.
Based on a survey with 93 college women involved in Greek life at Elon University, this study addressed the fundamental relationship between narcissism and social media. The survey results showed that the majority of participants believe that taking and posting selfies online encourages narcissistic and selfish behaviors. In addition, the study showed that participants think posting selfies is beneficial to them.
In a new phenomenon, this study reveals the connection between taking selfies and the rise in narcissistic behaviors in the Millennial Generation. Narcissism is characteristically defined as “incessantly pursue adoration from others, and to participate in egotistical thinking and behavior” (Panek, Nardis & Konrath, Narcissism and Social Networking Sites: The Act of Taking Selfies by Taylor M. Wickel — 11 2013). As shown in both Figure 1 and Figure 2, the majority of the participants’ responses correspond with the definition of narcissism. For participants who responded “yes” to the open-ended question, their reasons for doing so lean toward the incessant need and desire to obtain attention and gratification from their audience. Similarly, participants on the opposite side also responded in ways that can be interpreted as having the egotistical thinking and behaviorial aspect of narcissism.
Limitations to this study include the relatively small number of survey participants, as well as the depth of the survey questions. Follow-up personal interviews would have provided a better understanding of how the Millennial Generation perceives the new trend and phenomenon of posting selfies to social networking platforms. Future research might include in-depth interviews, as well as the inclusion of young male participants.
The author would like to extend thanks to Dr. Glenn Scott, associate professor of communications at Elon University, for all his help and guidance through the process of this study. Additionally, the author thanks the individuals who took the time to review this article for publication.
Appendix A: Survey Questionnaire