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Love Facebook? You Might Be an (Adaptive) Narcissist and Not Know It

Narcissism may predict how much we enjoy Facebook, a new study suggests.

When you scroll through your Facebook feed, what are you really looking for? While many of us are ostensibly there for the updates, others come and stay for the likes. This is perfectly natural. Approval is a wonderful thing. And the desire for it may be a powerful diagnostic tool. A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that narcissism may predict how much we enjoy Facebook. Researchers found that students with adaptive narcissism — high levels of self-esteem sans clinically worrisome symptoms — report enjoying social media far more than both non-narcissists and maladaptive, pathological narcissists.

In a word: The higher your self-esteem, the more likely you are to love social media. “A large number of studies have demonstrated that narcissistic people use social networking sites (SNS) more frequently and extensively than non-narcissistic people do. But few studies have examined whether narcissists genuinely enjoy using SNS,” the authors write. “The answer depends on the degree of adaptiveness of a particular individual’s narcissism…adaptive and maladaptive narcissism, predict better and worse SNS affective experiences, respectively.”

Narcissism is generally characterized by self-importance, perceived uniqueness, entitlement, and exhibitionism. Before the rise of social media, there were limited venues for narcissists. But now, selfies and cell phone have given everyone a platform — and narcissists partake with impunity. Prior studies have shown that narcissists are far more active on social media than the general population. But do they enjoy social media, or are they simply glued to the exhibitionism? To answer this question, the authors of the current study interviewed nearly 700 college students in China. They asked them about their social media habits and administered a questionnaire that tests for both healthy (adaptive) and unhealthy (maladaptive) narcissism.

“We hypothesized that adaptive narcissism would predict better SNS affective experiences, whereas maladaptive narcissism would predict worse SNS affective experiences,” the authors write. The results support this hypothesis. Students with healthy narcissistic tendencies (high levels of self-importance and exhibitionism, but not the sort of thing that harms their quality of life) were far more likely to report enjoying social media. And those with unhealthy narcissism reported the opposite — they used social media to show off, and didn’t enjoy it all that much.

There are a handful of caveats to this study, the most noteworthy being that the study established a correlation between different facets of narcissism and social media experience, but cannot demonstrate causation. Another important limitation is that the line between “adaptive” and “maladaptive” narcissism is blurry at best, and there is troubling overlap between the two conditions. “Although adaptive and maladaptive narcissism are distinct from each other in many ways, the scores of their measures revealed a medium correlation,” the authors admit.

Regardless, the results remain fascinating because they raise the possibility that the well-being of a narcissist could be tied to that person’s social media use. “It is evident that adaptive and maladaptive narcissism are relevant to emotional well-being both online and offline,” the authors conclude. “Given the potential link between SNS affective experience and psychological well-being offline, our results suggested that any SNS benefits to the psychological well-being of narcissistic users may also depend on the adaptiveness of their personality traits.”