The Upside of Social Media Narcissism
An older colleague of mine, Huw, often complains about “kids these days--with their tweeting, Facebook. A whole generation of self-absorbed, narcissistic people.” Narcissism is defined as the obsession with your appearance, being extremely egotistical, or having an unhealthy admiration of your intellect. Is the millennial generation really more narcissistic than previous generations? And are sites like Facebook to blame? A study found that two thirds of college students were more narcissistic than the average college student 30 years ago. To measure this, researchers used the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. It measures your self love by asking questions with a forced choice.
For example, pick one: I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world. I just want to be reasonably happy. If you picked the first option, you’re considered more narcissistic. This index measures how narcissistic people are, but it doesn’t measure Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD, a serious mental illness that’s different from just having high self esteem. People who suffer from NPD seriously think they are better than other people, that other people’s emotions are a waste of time or they’re aggressive when they’re rejected or insulted. NPD is a serious problem, but outside of this disorder narcissism is regarded as a negative trait.
This book - The Narcissism Epidemic - says that narcissism is corrosive to society. TIME ran a cover story on the lazy, entitled Millennial generation. And it does seem that social media is at least partly to blame. It’s estimated that 30% of photos taken by Gen Y are selfies and in the UK, 17 million selfies are uploaded to social media every week. So with social media use on the rise, it only stands to reason that the observed rise in narcissism is related to our growing ability to indulge our narcissistic traits.
But is this all bad? Is it possible that a rise in narcissism actually makes us better, more self aware people? You may think that admiring yourself in a mirror is shallow and vain, but studies have shown seeing your reflection reduces the incidence of cheating on tests. At workplaces, it’s common for employees to contribute to an honesty box to pay for vital coffee supplies. In one experiment, when an image of a pair of eyes was placed above the box contributions increased three-fold. If we know we’re being watched, we become more likely to behave honestly. And narcissism also correlates with traits we think of as positive.
In addition to being more narcissistic, college students today are also more assertive, extraverted and have more self esteem than the average college students 30 years ago. Narcissism in the extreme is a problematic disorder, but for most people, a slight increase in narcissism, brought on by social media, may be a benefit. Being faced with ourselves makes us better people--it’s not just about vanity. The ever present media, the images of ourselves on Facebook and around us are allowing us to see ourselves as we never have before. If you take the opportunity to see yourself as others do, rather than to present yourself as you would rather be, the reflection may make you more confident, honest, and self-aware. What do you think? Let me know in the comments, and subscribe to braincraft for a new video every other week.
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