Surprise! Narcissism Linked to Frequent Facebook and Twitter Use

Oversharing may be the least of their problems.

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You know those people who are always posting deep thoughts on Twitter and dumb jokes, pet photos, and the mind-numbing minutiae of their daily lives on Facebook? If a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan is to be believed, oversharing is the least of their problems. Published in Computers in Human Behaviorthe paper found that college students who post relatively frequently on Twitter are more narcissistic than their peers who post less often. In contrast, adults with certain narcissistic tendencies favor Facebook as the virtual venue of choice for their humble brags.

Why the disconnect? “Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles,” said Eliot Panek, one of the study’s authors, in a press release. College students, by contrast, are “trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.”

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Narcissistic personality disorder is broadly defined as having an inflated sense of one’s own self-worth. But the disorder includes several specific traits, including exhibitionism, superiority, entitlement, vanity, self-sufficiency, authority and taking advantage of others. Researchers attempted to measure each of these seven specific traits and determine which were most-closely associated with frequent use of social media. In two separate surveys of 486 college students and 93 adults (conducted in 2010 and 2011) participants were asked to select statements that best reflect themselves — ranging from “I always know what I’m doing”(narcissistic) to “Sometimes I am not sure of what I am doing” (not narcissistic).

The researchers discovered that the specific narcissistic trait exhibited depended both on participants’ age group and their preferred social media outlet. “Our findings suggest that for college students, posting on Twitter is associated with the Superiority component of narcissistic personality, while Facebook posting is associated with the Exhibitionism component,” according to the study’s abstract. The reverse was true for adults, who use Facebook – not Twitter — as a way to demonstrate superiority over their peers.

Interestingly, not all narcissistic traits are associated with higher Facebook use. “For college students, there’s no link between being considered authoritative and self-sufficient and higher frequency [of posts] on Facebook. For adults, there’s, in fact, a negative correlation between those leadership characteristics and the frequency with which they spend time on Facebook,” Panek explained to TIME.

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So what’s wrong with being a little narcissistic? Plenty. The traits associated with the disorder can stunt the development of close, long-term relationships. What’s more, highly narcissistic people are more likely to react aggressively to criticism and to carry out actions that promote themselves at the expense of others. On the upside, narcissism also correlates with higher self-esteem and low anxiety.

With reporting by Mackenzie Yang

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