I was contacted by ITV This Morning yesterday to discuss the possibility of being on the programme to discuss the following story (ITV Player programme here – they decided to go with another psychologist, rather than a social media specialist):
People who post Facebook status updates about their romantic partner are more likely to have low self-esteem, while those who brag about diets, exercise, and accomplishments are typically narcissists, according to new research.
Psychologists at Brunel University London surveyed Facebook users to examine the personality traits and motives that influence the topics they choose to write about in their status updates – something that few previous studies have explored.
The data was collected from 555 Facebook users who completed online surveys measuring the ‘Big Five’ personality traits – extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness – as well as self-esteem and narcissism.
The research found:
- People with low self-esteem more frequently posted status updates about their current romantic partner.
- Narcissists more frequently updated about their achievements, which was motivated by their need for attention and validation from theFacebook community. These updates also received a greater number of ‘likes’ and comments, indicating that narcissists’ boasting may be reinforced by the attention they crave.
- Narcissists also wrote more status updates about their diet and exercise routine, suggesting that they use Facebook to broadcast the effort they put into their physical appearance.
- Conscientiousness was associated with writing more updates about one’s children.
Psychology lecturer Dr Tara Marshall, from Brunel University London, said: “It might come as little surprise that Facebook status updates reflect people’s personality traits. However, it is important to understand why people write about certain topics on Facebook because their updates may be differentially rewarded with ‘likes’ and comments. People who receive more likes and comments tend to experience the benefits of social inclusion, whereas those who receive none feel ostracised.
“Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that theirFacebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays. 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.”
The research team said further studies should examine responses to particular status update topics, the likeability of those who update about them, and whether certain topics put people at greater risk of being unfriended.
Notes to Editors:
Academics used the 35-item Berkeley Personality Profile to measure the ‘Big Five’ personality traits; the 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale to assess self-esteem; and the 13-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory to measure narcissism.
The research also suggested the following:
- Extraverts use Facebook status updates as a tool for social engagement
- Neurotic individuals use Facebook for validation – to win the attention and support they lack offline
- People high in openness use the platform primarily to write about current events, the arts, or their political views rather than for socialising
‘The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates’ by Tara C Marshall, Katharina Lefringhausen and Nelli Ferenczi is published here.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.