A study published by Brunel University confirmed what most of us think as we scroll our Facebook newsfeeds: People who share what they eat and how much they've worked out are more likely to be narcissistic, and the people who post frequently about their significant others tend to have low self-esteem.
More than 500 Facebook users in the US participated in the study, published last October. Psychologists were interested in understanding why people post what they do. They asked subjects about the amount of time spent on the social network, their motives for posting, and what kind of feedback they received on average. Of the group, 57 percent checked Facebook on a daily basis, spending an average of 107.95 minutes per day on the site.
In terms of method, researchers used the "Big Five" model of personality, which states that individuals vary in terms of five notable traits: openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. After completing a survey to determine which of the Big Five traits they possessed, participants were asked which subjects they typically post about and how frequently.
The results were fairly unsurprising: Extraverts tended to publish more about their social activities and everyday life; people who were more open were more likely to write about intellectual topics; and conscientious people shared more about their children.
Narcissists, the study found, were more likely to post about the ways they take care of their physical appearance in order to reveal how important it is to them, not necessarily to seek validation. They also were not ashamed of bragging about their accomplishments, which was reinforced by a greater number of likes and comments. One caveat, researchers point out, is that "people may like and comment on a friend's achievement-related updates to show support, but may secretly dislike such displays of hubris."
In another predictable finding, people with low self-esteem were more likely to post about their significant others. While they typically use Facebook for self-expression, when they posted about their relationships, it was instead for communication purposes. "Considering that people with low self-esteem tend to be more chronically fearful of losing their romantic partner, and that people are more likely to post relationship-relevant information on Facebook on days when they feel insecure," the study's authors note, "it is reasonable to surmise that people with low self-esteem update about their partner as a way of laying claim to their relationship when it feels threatened."
Regina Tuma is a professor in the media psychology department at Fielding Graduate University. She tells Broadly she wasn't surprised by the study's findings. "What we're seeing in social media is a reflection of our everyday and interpersonal relations and communications," she says. Some people are narcissistic online and offline, just as there are others who aren't. Moreover, Tuma says, the study acknowledges that social media have become integrated into our lives.
Ultimately, the study's authors write, it's important to understand why we publish what we do so that we can avoid making our friends hate us. "Greater awareness of how one's status updates might be perceived by friends could help people to avoid topics that annoy more than they entertain," they conclude.
Tuma agrees, saying people need to "grow up a little in terms of the kinds of interactions we have on social media." She suggests people move past writing whatever they want on their wall, pointing out that doing so is a little selfish. "If we want to be good communicators and want to have meaningful relationships, we need to be aware of the other, and we need to be aware of our relationships with them."