A Study on Whether Social Media Is Making Us More Narcissistic

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With new technological advancements, comes more ways people can communicate with each other. Through the development of social media, people are less lonely as a result of having more ways to communicate with one another. Now, people can share their life with people all around the world. For example, social media platforms such as Instagram have paved the way in finding new ways to communicate with each other over the internet through its use of sharing pictures and short videos. As a result of this: the world as we know has become more smaller. The fundamental concept behind Instagram is that once the user posts something, a person who follows that specific user may like that post if they wish. With certain accounts, someone does not even need to follow that person to like their posts. Which consequently creates new relationships as much as it strengthens old bonds. It is a simple, yet noble way for people to communicate with each other. However, with the pros of social media overall, there are also cons. The downsides that come with social media is the possibility that someone can depend on it a bit too much. The side effect of that being is the development of narcissism. (Ryan & Xenos, 2011; Wang et al.,2012). Narcissism is the behavior of a person with high self-esteem who views themselves in excessive self-regard (Champion. 2003), and with this grandiose view of themselves, comes behavior that is self-serving. It is believed that social media causes this behavior. The reasoning behind this lies within the platforms of social media itself. As stated by Mari K Swingle (2016), within social media lies a reward system, and if we use that excessively, we get caught in a loop where we are excessively searching for the next dopamine boost. As a result, the overuse and over-reliance on social media can pave the way in the development of narcissism in a person.

In social psychology, self-esteem is the perceived value of someone within themselves or how they are valued to other people. Self-esteem in people can be measured as either high or low. In regards to some people who have high self-esteem, narcissism can be a negative byproduct of someone who embodies this notion. According to various researchers, narcissists tend to express three kinds of self-serving behaviors: these behaviors that tend to exist in these kinds of people are exploitative tendencies, exhibitionism, and entitlement. All of which are behaviors that exist in children, adolescents, and adults (Barry et al., 2003; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Pauletti et al., 2012; Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991; Raskin & Terry, 1988; Washburn, McMahon, King, Reinecke, & Silver, 2004) as cited by (Meenakshi Menon, Harriet C. A. Moyes, and Christina M. Bradley.) To give a little context in order to expand what the concept of narcissism is all about: Exploitative behavior refers to unfairly using others for profit or an advantage (Brunell et al. 2013 ). While people who tend to display exhibitionist behavior tend to act more extravagant in order to attract attention to one’s self. (Maddox. 2017.) With these two behaviors, people who display narcissism tend to have an overall sense of entitlement, where they will think that everyone owes them everything. Which given the circumstances of narcissism and the traits it embodies: Social media is an excellent breeding ground for people to develop narcissism. Which is mainly due to the serotonin boost one receives from using it.

This study aims to find out the cause and effect relationship between excessive social media use, and the development of narcissism. To do this, our external stimuli will be the social media platform of Instagram. Excessive use of this platform may result in the user developing narcissistic traits: such as exploitative behavior, exhibitionist tendencies, and an overall sense of entitlement. Therefore, the overall hypothesis of this experiment leans towards the view that excessive use of these social media platforms will result in the development of narcissism. When compared to the notion that people who do not use social media will develop narcissism. Through random assignment, this experiment will measure the narcissism (dependent variable) that the people who use Instagram develop when compared to the people who do not use Instagram (independent variable) commit when both variables are put through an implicit association test (IAT.)



This study will take place at MacEwan University over the course of 3 months. The way this study will be introduced to the participants is through the research participation program at MacEwan. Undergraduate students (age approx. 18-26) will complete this study in exchange for partial course credit.


For this experiment, students will complete a quick questionnaire which will ask if they use or do not use social media. The first 50 people who complete this questionnaire will be automatically submitted to this study. Just so the results are not specific to gender, the questionnaire will not ask what gender the participants identify as. Because the results aim to measure overall narcissism regardless of gender. In this experiment, the 50 participants will be evenly assigned to two groups. The ones who are told to use social media, and the ones who are told not to use social media. Instagram will be the stimuli administered in this particular study. To increase experimental realism, the participants will not be told about the purpose of the experiment, as not to alter their response when narcissism is being measured. To measure the dependent variable: an Implicit Association Test will be administered at the end of the 3 months in order to gauge the levels of narcissism (IAT; A. G. Greenwald, D. E. McGhee, & J. L. K. Schwartz, 1998). However, unlike the original study Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz conducted: this study will also use photos in the IAT, as Instagram is the stimuli administered in this study, it will make sense to set up the IAT to go along with this particular stimuli.


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In this study, the 25 participants who are told to use social media will use the stimuli, Instagram (dependent variable.) And by use, this means that they will post pictures of themselves daily, and they will post Instagram stories daily. While the other group of 25 will be told to not use social media (independent variable.) To clarify, this experiment will take place in a controlled setting. Before the experiment begins, 50 people will be randomly assigned evenly to either the controlled condition or the experimental condition. The controlled condition is the ones who are being exposed to the stimuli (Instagram) and are to use Instagram on a daily basis over the course of the 3 months. We will tell the controlled condition beforehand to use Instagram daily, but they will not be told for how long they will use it for. Nor will they be let in on the purpose of this study: as to maintain experimental realism. The experimental condition, who are the participants who will not be exposed to the stimuli (Instagram.) And before the experiment begins, the experimental condition will be told to avoid social media of all kinds, and just to focus on school work, and other extracurricular activities. At the end of the experiment, both conditions will be administered to an on the spot Implicit Association Test (i.e, partly through pictures), to measure the amounts of narcissism developed. At the end of the IAT, after all of the data has been collected. The participants in both conditions will be debriefed and will be told about the purpose of this study and what was being measured in the study.

Expected Results and Discussion

In this study, it is expected that the ones receiving the control condition, (i.e, the ones using Instagram) will develop higher levels of narcissism when compared to the group who does not use Instagram (experimental condition). Thus, the use of social media will enhance the levels of narcissism in the participants of this experiment.

The people in this experiment who will use Instagram will be more prone to developing narcissism because within social media lies a dopamine feedback loop. (H.Macit, G. Macit, & Güngör. 2018). Which users of social media become attached to social media because of the rewards it provides for the user (or the dopamine activating response it gives to the user.) People, as a result, will keep using social media to feed this craving of dopamine. The dopamine response social media provides causes the user to develop higher levels of self-esteem because of this constant need for self-affirmation (i.e., the need for recognition for what is important to someone), and social media provides that self-affirmation for people (Toma. Hancock. 2013.) If one combines these factors together, one can come to believe that the Instagram users will develop narcissistic traits (i.e. Exploitativeness, Exhibitionism, and Entitlement), because of the constant need of self-affirmation and Dopamine that social media platforms such as Instagram provide.

Through using random experiment, and by conducting this study through the means of experimental design, this study controls extraneous variables (i.e., personality traits, past usage of social media platforms, time participants spent towards this experiment). However, the one limitation to this study is that narcissism is measured based solely on self-perception, self-identification, and self-report (Jin. Muqaddam. 2018). However, social media does activate dopamine receptors and inhibits reward-seeking behavior, which does have an influence on the development of narcissism.

This study aims to provide new information in regards to the reliance on social media and the development of narcissism. As technology becomes more advanced over time, comes a higher reliance on it for ones day to day lives. This study projects to understand how new and efficient ways in communication from new technology can negatively affect one’s self-esteem to where they develop narcissism. As a result, the information revealed in this study reveals an area for improvement so that social media does not turn more people into narcissists in the coming future. Furthermore, this study provides insight in regards to how much social media we use, and what it entails for when it comes to the excessive need for self-affirmation and the dopamine response cravings that social media provides. As technology gets more advanced this study’s main goal is to improve the research between the relationship of social media use, and the development of narcissism curb the likelihood of narcissism developing in further generations. Which as a result, provides humans with a better world, and provides social psychologists with a better grasp of what goes on in one’s mind.


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