12 December 2018

What’s not to ‘like’ about selfies? Quite a lot, actually

Mental Health Psychology Social Media

Have you ever suspected that folks who post multiple photos to social media platforms of their meals, their holidays, but most of all, pictures of themselves, might be just a touch narcissistic?

Turns out to be worse than that. Research recently published in The Open Psychology Journal reveals the practice of uploading numerous “selfies” is not just an outlet for narcissistic tendencies, it actually exacerbates the trait – to the point of pushing some social media posters past the cut-off point for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.

This disorder occurs when a person has an exaggerated need for admiration from others while simultaneously lacking empathy. People with the disorder experience excessive self-importance and sense of entitlement.

Over a four-month period, researchers from Swansea University in the UK and Italy’s Milan University, studied the social media behaviours of 74 trial participants, aged from 18 to 34 years.

The participants were monitored for their use of four social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

Not including work requirements, the average social media use was three hours a day, but some in the study reported personal usage of up to eight hours a day.

The researchers found that those users who posted “excessive” numbers of photos, including selfies, showed a 25% increases in narcissistic traits over the study period.

Those who posted mainly words and not images did not demonstrate a similar uptick in narcissism.

The researchers contend that the individual focus of social media and the measuring of “likes” and “views” can make a user feel more “seen”, which could improve self-esteem, but also lead to further attention-seeking.

The use of mobile phones for almost instantaneous publishing of photos on social media helped feed an individual’s ego in potentially problematic ways, they said.

“That the predominant usage of social media … was visual, mainly through Facebook, suggests the growth of this personality problem could be seen increasingly more often, unless we recognise the dangers in this form of communication,” the study’s lead author, Professor Phil Reed, said.

To receive a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, a person must exhibit persistent impairments, such as making excessive attempts to attract attention or experiencing problems with goal-setting or interpersonal relationships.