Study: Facebook users tend to be more narcissistic — but happier — than non-users

New research published in PLOS One has found differences between Facebook users and Facebook non-users regarding personality traits and mental health variables.

The study of 790 Facebook users and 155 non-users found that those who participated in the social networking site tended to score higher on measures of narcissism, self-esteem and extraversion. Facebook users also tended to have higher levels of subjective happiness, life satisfaction and social support compared to non-users.

But there were no significant differences found between Facebook users and non-users when it came to the personality traits of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Julia Brailovskaia of Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Read her explanation of the research below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Brailovskaia: In the last ten years, social networking sites (SNS) have become part of the everyday life of many people. With over 1.5 billion users, Facebook is one of the most popular SNSs. Worldwide, users spend a lot of time interacting on Facebook with other users and presenting themselves. Some people, however, avoid the use of this SNS consciously. While earlier studies showed that online behavior on Facebook is associated with some personality traits such as narcissism or extraversion, only few studies investigated its relationship with mental health. These studies partly showed inconsistent results. Furthermore, only little attention was spent on the differences between Facebook users and non-users.

We therefore decided to shed some light on this topic with our exploratory study. As part of the ongoing BOOM (Bochum Optimism and Mental Health) project, our study compared Facebook users and non-users regarding personality traits, positive and negative mental health variables.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Our results reveal significant differences between Facebook users and people who do not use this SNS. Facebook users have higher values of the personality traits narcissism, extraversion and self-esteem than Facebook non-users. Furthermore, they show higher values of life satisfaction, social support and subjective happiness. And there seems to be a stronger association between personality traits on the one hand and depression, anxiety and stress symptoms on the other hand in the group of Facebook users. In remains unclear, however, whether the use of Facebook actually increases positive variables of mental health as well as various personality traits. To answer this question, we are now working on longitudinal and experimental studies.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Earlier studies showed significant relationships between online interaction and self-presentation on the one hand and various personality traits on the other hand. In our study, we did not investigate online behavior. We only compared users and non-users of Facebook. In future studies, in would be advisable to focus on the association between activities on Facebook, e.g., social interaction, and life satisfaction or depression and anxiety symptoms.

Furthermore, to improve the generalizability of our present results, future studies should investigate their replicability in older samples with broader age ranges.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Our results cannot answer the following question: Does Facebook use help to improve mental health making its users more resistant against e.g., depression? If this was the case, it would be beneficial to integrate the use of Facebook into prevention programs for mental health. Considering the large potential of Facebook in providing social support and satisfying the need to belong, the use of this platform could be especially meaningful to people without offline social support. Unlike to face-to-face interaction, in online interactions users can take time to think through their course of action and practice managing stressful situations to develop appropriate, resilient behavior.

However, such assumptions would also suggest that traits such as narcissism increase with Facebook use. Some authors of earlier studies have already expressed this concern emphasizing that especially younger users of platforms like Facebook show increased narcissism value.

The study, “Comparing Facebook Users and Facebook Non-Users: Relationship between Personality Traits and Mental Health Variables – An Exploratory Study“, was also co-authored by Jürgen Margraf.