Study: Facebook profiles can be used to detect narcissism

September 22, 2008,

A new University of Georgia study suggests that online social networking sites such as Facebook might be useful tools for detecting whether someone is a narcissist.

"We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others," said lead author Laura Buffardi, a doctoral student in psychology who co-authored the study with associate professor W. Keith Campbell.

The researchers, whose results appear in the October issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, gave personality questionnaires to nearly 130 Facebook users, analyzed the content of the pages and had untrained strangers view the pages and rate their impression of the owner's narcissism.

The researchers found that the number of Facebook friends and wallposts that individuals have on their profile pages correlates with narcissism. Buffardi said this is consistent with how narcissists behave in the real-world, with numerous yet shallow relationships. Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos, she said, while others are more likely to use snapshots.

Untrained observers were able to detect narcissism, too. The researchers found that the observers used three characteristics – quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual and the degree of self promotion in the main photo – to form an impression of the individual's personality. "People aren't perfect in their assessments," Buffardi said, "but our results show they're somewhat accurate in their judgments."

Narcissism is a trait of particular interest, Campbell said, because it hampers the ability form healthy, long-term relationships. "Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage," Campbell said. "They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run."

The tremendous growth of social networking sites – Facebook now has 100 million users, for example – has led psychologists to explore how personality traits are expressed online. Buffardi and Campbell chose Facebook because it's the most popular networking site among college students and because it has a fixed format that makes it easier for researchers to compare user pages.

Some researchers in the past have found that personal Web pages are more popular among narcissists, but Campbell said there's no evidence that Facebook users are more narcissistic than others.

"Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people's social interactions," Campbell said. "It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships – for self promotion with an emphasis on quantity of over quality."

Still, he points out that because narcissists tend to have more contacts on Facebook, any given Facebook user is likely to have an online friend population with a higher proportion of narcissists than in the real world. Right now it's too early to predict if or how the norms of online self-promotion will change, Campbell said, since the study of social networking sites is still in its infancy.

"We've undergone a social change in the last four or five years and now almost every student manages their relationships through Facebook – something that few older people do," Campbell said. "It's a completely new social world that we're just beginning to understand."

Source: University of Georgia

Explore further: Facebook makes us feel good about ourselves: study

Related Stories

Facebook makes us feel good about ourselves: study

June 26, 2012
People love social networks. That's the obvious conclusion from Facebook's 900 million active users and its current standing as one of the most visited sites on the web, second only to Google. New research from the University ...

Research reveals social media skews drinking habits

May 27, 2015
Social media is a cause, and a solution to young people's binge drinking habits according to new research from the University of Sydney.

Facebook to test news story paywalls: report

July 19, 2017
Facebook will test limiting the number of published news stories that can be read for free on its Instant Articles platform for premium publishers, US media reported on Wednesday.

Foiling the plan of a cyberbully

November 23, 2011
Morgan Biggs, an eighth grade student at St. Anne's School of Annapolis in Maryland, has an opinion about cyberbullying. "Bullying comes in many different forms, from cyberbullying to physical bullying. It's all wrong and ...

Industry, academic partners team up to fight fake news

April 3, 2017
A global alliance of tech industry and academic organizations unveiled plans on Monday to work together to combat the spread of "fake news" and improve public understanding of journalism.

Why do we share stories, news, and information with others?

June 29, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- People often share stories, news, and information with the people around them. We forward online articles to our friends, share stories with our co-workers at the water cooler, and pass along rumors to ...

Recommended for you

When scientists push people to their tipping point

December 10, 2018
You probably overestimate just how far someone can push you before you reach your tipping point, new research suggests.

Internet therapy apps reduce depression symptoms, study finds

December 7, 2018
In a sweeping new study, Indiana University psychologists have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression.

Gender bias sways how we perceive competence in faces

December 7, 2018
Faces that are seen as competent are also perceived as more masculine, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Targeted cognitive training benefits patients with severe schizophrenia

December 7, 2018
Schizophrenia is among the most difficult mental illnesses to treat, in part because it is characterized by a wide range of dysfunction, from hallucinations and mood disorders to cognitive impairment, especially verbal and ...

Pot withdrawal eased for dependent users

December 6, 2018
A new drug can help people diagnosed with cannabis use disorder reduce withdrawal symptoms and marijuana use, a new Yale-led study published Dec. 6 in the journal Lancet Psychiatry shows.

Link between neonatal vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia confirmed

December 6, 2018
Newborns with vitamin D deficiency have an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life, a team of Australian and Danish researchers has reported.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (6) Sep 23, 2008
Which Department of Georgia Uni did the research? Department of the bleedin' obvious?
4.3 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2008
google says:
person full of egoism and pride; One who shows extreme love and admiration for oneself
4 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2008
Ewwww, I don't like this article: it makes me look bad.
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2008
It sounds to me like someone just got dumped by a confident guy with a hot profile picture on facebook. Narcissism isn't a disease.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2008
So are we to put bad character traits on our Facebook pages?
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2008
We are to be honest, if we choose to only put up nice things so what? I thought it was obvious people only put up what they 'like' about themselves, that is why the net is such an interesting and dangerous place. I mean can you see someone putting up on facebook they like sex with goats? **shrugs**
5 / 5 (1) Sep 26, 2008
Facebook (as like all online personal material) may not be full of facts and in most cases people have probably bigged themselves up a bit. How could a uni encourage a study based on online profiles? Shame they couldn't get some worthwhile results from it, like which profiles are actually paedos.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2008
Gonna go out on a limb here, but wouldn't one be expressing at least a smallish bit of narcissism if they posted themselves on a site such as Facebook? If you think you are good looking enough to be seen by the public or to let them know what you believe, think, feel, yadda yadda...then it seems to me that you think enough of yourself to believe that anyone else would care as well.
I submit as proof by example, the above comment I have written (I'm getting dizzy from my own circular reasoning).
Plus my parents-in law graduated from U of G, and they are total goofballs, thus detracting some credibility of this research in my eyes.
not rated yet Oct 03, 2008
Anyone who maintains one of these Facebook or Myspace pages is already a narcisist or has problems with real life social interaction and acceptance. Also, rat-nest scrapbook web layout of most of those sites is anathema to anyone who appreciates functional useable U/I so you're already weeding out a great segment of the normal populace.

No, I think the study was highly flawed to begin with. Anyone who has one of these sites and REALLY believes they have 20,000 'friends' is beyond narcisism way down the road to sociopath.
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
I'd have to disagree with those of you who say just having a profile is narcissistic. Many people who have profiles on Facebook of Myspace have them only to connect with friends who are too far away to see regularly or to try to reconnect with old friends that they wish they had stayed in touch with. Though maybe you jump to the conclusion that all people with profiles on those sites are narcissistic because that's why you or people you know have them...
not rated yet Dec 11, 2008
Yeah, this study is very bad. Did someone get a diploma for this? But I do agree with some of you above. Many people ask me why I don't have a facebook page. It seems to me putting one together is narcissistic in itself. Or maybe more like looking for affirmation that you are ok, that people like you. Does Stewart Smalley have a facebook page?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.