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Narcissists’ New Need: More Twitter Followers

• January 09, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: Anthony Correia/Shutterstock)

New research provides evidence that narcissism, and the resultant need for admiration, drives tweeting.

Spotting a narcissist can be tricky, but newly published research suggests a tell-tale marker: Note how often he or she tweets.

“Narcissism does appear to be a primary driver for the desire for (Twitter) followers, which in turn drives tweets,” writes a research team led by Shaun Davenport of High Point University.

It reports in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that study participants with narcissistic tendencies tended to tweet more often than others, as well as to post more Facebook status updates.

A Facebook narcissist can arguably get his or her need for approval met by directly requesting friends, whereas a Twitter user must cultivate followers by continually posting interesting tweets.

Comparing the two social media platforms, the researchers found a generational divide, noting that “narcissistic college students prefer to post content on Twitter, while narcissistic adults prefer to post content on Facebook.”

This appears to reflect a difference in Facebook usage between millennials and members of earlier generations, with  millennials’ posting of status updates being more routine and less likely to reflect narcissistic motives.

Davenport and his colleagues conducted two surveys, one featuring 515 college undergraduates, and another 669 adults recruited online (mean age 32). All participants were active on social media. After filling out the 40-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory, they listed how often they both tweeted and updated their Facebook status during a typical day.

Among both groups, “narcissism was found to be a stronger predictor of Twitter active usage (i.e., tweets) than Facebook active usage (i.e., status updates),” the researchers report.

In fact, “we found no significant direct or indirect relationship with active usage on Facebook for the college students,” they write. This “calls into question the barrage of press linking the rise in social networking to the rise in narcissism among Millennials.”

“However, narcissism was both directly and indirectly related to active (Facebook) usage among adults,” they add, “suggesting that the narcissistic active users of Facebook are now more likely to be of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations than Millennials.”

The researchers suspect this reflects the fact that “Millennials grew up using Facebook … as a means of communicating with others, just as previous generations might have used a telephone.”

In contrast, “Older generations who have not grown up with this tool require a more intentional reason to ‘update status,’ as it is not part of their social norms.” Narcissism is certainly one such “intentional reason” (although hardly the only one).

The researchers caution that their results could reflect, at least in part, a structural difference between the two services. They note that a Facebook narcissist can arguably get his or her need for approval met by directly requesting friends, whereas a Twitter user must cultivate followers by continually posting interesting tweets.

But many clearly feel the effort is worth it, so long as their number of followers consistently grows at an ego-satisfying pace. Twitter, Twitter, on my screen, who’s the fairest person there ever has been?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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