Study: Narcissists are more likely to buy likes to look popular on Instagram

Narcissistic individuals are more likely to try to enhance their popularity on Instagram with deceptive or manipulative tactics, according to research published in Computers in Human Behavior.

The study, which surveyed a total of 463 emerging adults who use Instagram, found that deceptive like-seeking behavior occurred among 12-55% of the sample. Deceptive like-seeking behaviors include dishonest methods of obtaining likes, such as buying likes/followers or changing one’s physical appearance with editing software.

Emerging adults who scored higher on a measure of narcissism or reported weaker feelings of peer belonging were more likely to engage in these deceptive like-seeking behaviors.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Tara M. Dumas of Huron University College at Western University. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Dumas: I am a Professor at a liberal arts school in Ontario, Canada (Huron University College) and work closely with undergraduate students. It was during discussions with my students that I had first learned of the great lengths that some young people go to secure likes from other people on Instagram. I learned that a subset of these behaviors involve an element of deception such as buying followers or changing one’s physical appearance in photos using software before uploading them to Instagram.

I found this surprising and also interesting from a social comparison and self-validation perspective. I discussed this with my colleague, Dr. Maxwell-Smith at Western University, who is also interested in how online consumption activities are affected by processes related to social comparison, and we both agreed that there appeared to be a great need for more research in this area.

What should the average person take away from your study?

This study is correlational in nature and thus we cannot assess causality. That being said, it is noteworthy that we found no apparent benefits of engaging in more dishonest forms of like-seeking behavior on Instagram. Instead, deceptive like-seeking was associated with narcissism and weaker feelings of peer belonging, while more normative forms of like-seeking (e.g., using a filter or hashtag) were associated with stronger feelings of peer belonging (i.e., the extent to which people feel connected to and valued by their peers). Further, there was no clear trend with one type of like-seeking behavior being associated with a greater number of likes received more than the other.

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

I think it will be important for future research to adopt a longitudinal design, over time. This would allow researchers to examine if different types of like-seeking behavior on Instagram (and other social networking sites) actually serve to alter the number of likes received and to what degree this has an impact on how young people feel about themselves.

Further, I think we can conduct more research to gain a better perspective of the types of young adults who are most likely to engage in deceptive and normative like-seeking behaviors and the resulting personal and social consequences/outcomes. For our part, my colleague Dr. Maxwell-Smith and I are currently examining how social dynamics within young people’s friend groups predict their like-seeking behavior on Instagram.

The study, “Lying or Longing for Likes? Narcissism, Peer Belonging, Loneliness and Normative versus Deceptive Like-seeking on Instagram in Emerging Adulthood“, was also co-authored by Matthew Maxwell-Smith, Jordan P. Davis, and Paul A. Giulietti.