Scientists have some very specific ideas about what you’re really saying in your Facebook updates. (Photo: Getty Images)
There’s the old saying that you can’t believe everything you read, yet many experts in the psychology field are saying that Facebook postings can offer insight into someone’s personality. The most recent study comes from Brunel University in London, which found that numerous Facebookers are either dealing with low self-esteem or have traits of narcissism.
Researchers provided 555 Facebook members with an online survey that measured the “Big Five” personality traits, which included extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Self-esteem and narcissism were also analyzed. After gathering the data, the psychologists concluded that frequent updates about:
One’s romantic partner most likely indicates a person who has low self-esteem
Personal and professional achievements most likely indicates a person who is a narcissist being that they’re seeking “attention and validation from the Facebook community”
Healthy eating habits and exercise regimes also indicates a person who’s a narcissist since their likely goal is to receive compliments on their appearance
According to study author Dr. Tara Marshall, sometimes the narcissists’ behavior works to their advantage. “Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that their Facebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays,” she said in a formal statement.
However, these findings from Brunel University are not the first that connect Facebook postings with personality traits. A study released from University of Florida found that one Facebook behavior was linked to levels of narcissism — the rating someone gave their own profile shot. While this was true for both men and women (the higher their self-rating of attractiveness, the higher the chances of narcissism), they added that the frequency of status postings in females can also predict narcissism.
Then there’s previous research from The University of Kansas , which found that people who tend to be more agreeable post less often, people who are more open-minded are less likely to respond to other people’s updates yet will post more often about political issues and those who are conscientious tend to agree more often with other’s updates.
As for the people who rarely offer status updates yet log in for more hours than the typical Facebook user … according to a study conducted by University of Alabama Huntsville, these members fall into the shy category.
When it comes to overall Facebook use, other research has shown that excessive time online can damage relationships, make you less happy and even be difficult for those suffering from self-esteem issues.
Jacqueline Hornor Plumez, PhD, a psychologist and author of The Bitch In Your Head, tells Yahoo Health she is not surprised the terms “narcissism” and “low self-esteem” have been linked together, as seen in numerous studies on Facebook, including the latest one from London. “The interesting thing is that people who have low self-esteem and people who narcissists are really two sides of the same coin,” she explains. “While it appears to be that narcissists think they’re superior, in fact, it’s a defense against their feelings of inferiority. And they are both based on the fact that both types of people are highly self-critical.”
And while she stresses there’s nothing wrong with sharing the happenings in your life — “My husband surprised me with roses!” “I’m so proud of my daughter!” “Looking good in my new size 4 jeans!” — Plumez says making these types of announcements on social media usually boils down to someone’s need for attention.
“There’s a huge difference in the way you feel when you sit down with a good friend over a cup of coffee and share what’s going on with your life versus sitting in your office or in your bedroom posting on Facebook and hoping to get Likes, comments and praise,” she states. “The motivation is the same, but it’s like eating junk food versus something nutritious.”
And same goes for the frequent postings that include selfies. “I think it’s a longing for connection,” says Plumez. “I know many people today are highly self-critical. And that self criticism is a nasty, circular process: You criticize yourself, which makes you feel lonely and unworthy of real relationships and love, and then you go and try to find the praise—but it doesn’t really feel that wonderful.”
She adds that while Facebook and other forms of social media can be “mildly interesting” in terms of discovering what other people are up to, she doesn’t advise using it to obtain a self-esteem boost. “One of the famous psychologists named Alfred Adler said that mental health is a combination of self-esteem and altruism,” she says. “If you just try to get your self-esteem by somehow feeling superior, it isn’t going to feel good. You have to have that connection of caring about other people. And I think that Facebook, while it appears to be connecting everybody, can be isolating.”