Demanding to be liked

Guardian news reporter Damien Pearse points to a study in which social psychologist Chris Carpenter presents a correlation between FaceBook and other social media use, and socially aggressive narcissism. Such negative behaviour is said to manifest as an obsession with self-image, and shallow friendships.

I do not have ready access to the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and so cannot comment on the detail of Carpenter’s findings. The paper abstract refers to a sample size of around 300, which supports the statistical significance of the correlation. What it doesn’t do is justify the “established a direct link” reference in Pearse’s Guardian article.

Carpenter’s abstract in full…

“A survey (N = 292) was conducted that measured self-promoting Facebook behaviors (e.g. posting status updates and photos of oneself, updating profile information) and several anti-social behaviors (e.g. seeking social support more than one provides it, getting angry when people do not comment on one’s status updates, retaliating against negative comments). The grandiose exhibitionism subscale of the narcissistic personality inventory was hypothesized to predict the self-promoting behaviors. The entitlement/exploitativeness [sic] subscale was hypothesized to predict the anti-social behaviors. Results were largely consistent with the hypothesis for the self-promoting behaviors but mixed concerning the anti-social behaviors. Trait self-esteem was also related in the opposite manner as the Narcissism scales to some Facebook behaviors.”

The psychopathology described in the tortured prose above fits that displayed by a number of heavy FaceBook users of my acquaintance. But only some; others are but mildly narcissistic, and, in terms of their socialisation at least, they appear to me reasonably healthy of mind. Friendships are rarely deep, but those that are not deep are not always shallow.

It could be that aggressively narcissistic and other personality-disordered individuals are attracted to FaceBook for reasons not discussed. Social media may exacerbate users’ mental conditions, but they do not necessarily cause them in the first place. Having a pop at FaceBook junkies is good fun, but it is a little unfair to characterise them in the mass as disordered.