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Can you spend hours on Facebook and not be a narcissist?

Is this woman narcissistic, hallucinating or perfectly normal?

Elena Elisseeva/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Facebook may not make you rich, but will it make you a narcissist? It can feel that way, when your usually-shy self is posting personal status updates, tagging yourself in photos and amassing more friends than you probably need.

Recent studies have found that avid users exhibit narcissistic traits and that people with high levels of narcissism were more likely to spend more than an hour a day on the social-media site and tended to post digitally enhanced photos that made them look good.

But the relationship is still not fully understood. As New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope points out, "What the research doesn't answer is whether Facebook attracts narcissists or turns us into them."

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She suggests another recent study gets us closer to answering that question. A study of 233 Facebook-using college students by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Hartford took a different approach, she writes.

"Were the students primarily writing self-promoting status updates? Or were they interested in others, clicking 'likes' and posting comments on friends' pages? How many Facebook friends did they collect?"

The study did measure narcissism (defined as having an excessive interest in oneself) but also asked broader questions, including, "Do you share information with a wide circle of friends or value your privacy?"

The researchers found that frequency of Facebook use among young people was not associated with narcissism. "Narcissism per se was associated with only one type of Facebook user – those who amassed unrealistically large numbers of Facebook friends."

(If you really want to find narcissists, head over to Twitter. The same study found "an association between tweeting about oneself and high narcissism scores.")

Busy Facebookers were more likely to score high on "openness" and had few concerns about privacy.

Ms. Parker-Pope suspects that the behaviours that seem narcissistic could instead be completely normal for those who have grown up in the digital era. What seems like self-promotion may just reflect a generation that believes the free flow of information – including details about personal lives – connects us.

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"It's a huge oversimplification to say Facebook is for narcissists," Lynne Kelly, director of the school of communication at the University of Hartford and one of the study's authors, told Ms. Parker-Pope. "You share information about yourself on Facebook as a way to maintain relationships."

Do you think Facebook creates narcissists, or merely attracts them?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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