How Social Media Reflects The levels Of Narcissism and Empathy in Society

How Social Media Reflects The levels Of Narcissism and Empathy in Society

Do you use facebook ? If so what do you usually do ? The advent of social media and websites such as Facebook and Twitter have led many to question how online relationships have influenced offline relationships. It has also led to studies of self perception and the perception of others. One recent study along these lines was carried out by Dr. Tracy Alloway, an academic at the University of North Florida.

It was reported on in Science Daily in 2014. Alloway carried out a study into adult Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 50, and in total 400 were questioned on their use of the site. It was found that the use of some features was linked to selfishness, while other Facebook activities encouraged empathy.

Participants in the study were asked a variety of questions. These included the number of hours per day they used Facebook, how often they update their status and how they rate their own profile picture for attractiveness, cool, glamourous and fashionable. It transpired that most of the participants in the research were single and that they used Facebook on average two hours per day. Whether male or female they had 500 or so friends, and 89.5% were included in their own Facebook photographs.

Interestingly, narcissism was looked at as part of the study. The study’s participants were asked to complete a standard narcissism survey. Looking at this and comparing it with Facebook behaviour it was uncovered that for males, the photograph chosen for their profile picture was an indicator of narcissism. For females both the profile picture and the regularity of updating were considered to be indicators of levels of narcissism. As explained by the study, narcissists have an elevated opinion of their level of attractiveness and they aim to share this with the world. The profile picture allows people to draw attention to themselves. The Science Daily write up of the study explains that Alloway said:

“Every narcissist needs a reflecting pool. Just as Narcissus gazed into the pool to admire his beauty, social networking sites like Facebook, have become our modern day pool.”

Narcissism differences could be seen between people of different genders, according to Alloway. In particular, men showed that they were more narcissistic in the narcissism test. However, women were found to be more likely to say that their profile picture was more glamourous, cool and physically attractive. Women more commonly updated their profile picture more regularly than men. Women were found to do this once every two months, while men were likely to update their profile picture only once every three months. Alloway’s study indicated that this could mean that females that are narcissistic might be more likely to use Facebook as a “reflecting pool” than men who show narcissistic tendencies.


The study did find that Facebook was not just a narcissistic reflecting pool however, and that other activities carried out had no links to narcissism. How often people posted photographs of themselves was not found to be tied to tendencies towards narcissism. Additionally the number of friends that participants had was not found to have a link to narcissism. This indicates that there is more to Facebook than it just being used as a tool for narcissism. Empathy could be seen by some participants using Facebook. For example, tendency to use Facebook for chat purposes was found to be linked to participants in the study that demonstrated “higher levels of Perspective Taking”. People that showed empathic concern were found to be more likely to use chat. In particular, males were found to be more likely to have an ability to put themselves in the position of another using empathy, while females achieved lower scores in this regard. The study did uncover some other interesting findings. One was that for women the watching of videos posted was linked with the extent to which they were able to identify with the distress of another person.

Empathy has been studied lately as an important aspect of the human nature. In the following video, an animation published by RSA Shorts, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

Overall, the study determined that there were some traits of narcissism that could be identified by looking at how people use Facebook. To a lesser degree it was possible to see empathic tendencies linked with Facebook behaviour. However, in summary it was noted that social media is mostly just used as a tool for staying in touch with other people near and far, than for promoting oneself.