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The Relationship Between Social Media Behaviors and Levels of Narcissism

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The psychological and social motives behind posting behavior on social networking sites (SNS) as a form of self-presentation have recently become of interest to researchers. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries named “Selfie” as Word of the Year and defined it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media” (Oxford Dictionary; Yongjun et al???). A series of studies have sought out to analyze how we use social media for self-presentation and the relationship between posts and personality traits, most notably, narcissism. For instance, Weiser (2015) discusses how selfies may serve as channels for self-promotion and therefore, reinforce narcissistic tendencies. Some personality traits related to narcissism are grandiosity and attention seeking. This includes behaviors such as excessively referring to others for self-esteem regulation or self-definition, setting goals based on gaining approval from others, being excessively aware to others’ reactions if relevant to oneself, and having superficial relationships (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In Weiser’s (2015) study, participants were instructed to answer a survey based on their own selfie-taking/posting behavior (i.e., time using SNS, the frequency of posting on SNSs, self-posting frequency) and then completed a forced-choice survey assessing narcissistic traits in each individual participant. The findings indicated that posting frequency, narcissistic traits, and amount of time using SNSs were all positively correlated to selfie-posting frequency (Weiser, 2015). The current study focuses on the significant role that social media use, specially selfie-taking and posting, has on how individuals are perceived by others.

With the rise in selfies over the years, academic interest has leaned towards exploring not only the relationship between levels of narcissism and selfie-posting frequency but also the cognitive processes behind selfie-posting behavior. For instance, Sung, Lee, Kim, and Choi (2016) explored the motives that guide selfie-posting behavior. The experimental design involved 315 participants who confirmed they engaged in selfie-taking/posting. Participants were inquired about their own motivations for self-posting on SNSs. Then, a concise list of 38 different motivations was generated from their responses which were then used in a survey. The participants were asked how much they agree or disagreed with each item on the survey. After statistical analysis of the results, Sung et al. (2016) found four main motivations for selfie-posting: attention-seeking, entertainment, archiving, and communication. The motive “attention-seeking” is consistent with one of the criteria listed on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) diagnosis for narcissistic personality disorder. The study indicates that selfie-posting and frequency reflect narcissistic behavior and a need to promote an inflated self.

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A few recent studies on selfie-taking have also explored the cultural phenomenon by applying Festinger’s social comparison theory. The theory states that humans are driven by a need to compare themselves with others and evaluate their own abilities and opinions. Studies supporting the social comparison theory also found that self-evaluation not only provides an explanation for behavior but also for group formation (Festinger, 1954). In essence, comparing oneself to others is driven by a need to belong to a group that have similar views. Moreover, Chae’s (2017) study on digital enhancement of selfies (e.g., applying filters, removing blemishes) supported the social comparison theory and analyzed selective self-presentation in individuals. In contrast to the other pieces of literature discussed, this study only used female participants under the assumption that women are more likely to feel pressured into adhering to particular beauty standards or social trends. A survey measured the frequency of selfies, average use of SNSs, overall satisfaction with their facial features, how often they compared their appearance to others (friends, social media influencers, celebrities), and how often they retouched their selfies. The study concluded that digital retouching of selfies is more common in individuals who often compare themselves to friends on SNSs and frequently use and post on SNSs. The results emphasized that social comparison does not hold an emotional level because it was not related to self-esteem, which was measured in the survey as satisfaction with facial appearance. Instead, it further supports that selfie-posting is a mean of self-promotion and a way to keep up inflated self-views (Chae, 2017). The literature, backed up by social comparison theory, provides further support for the relationship between narcissistic tendencies (e.g., referring to others for self-definition) and social media behavior.

Furthermore, the majority of recent research has focused on who is posting selfies but very few have focused on the role of the audience viewing the selfies (Taylor, Hinck, & Lim, 2017). Prior studies have concluded that individuals make judgments about a selfie poster based on available physical cues (i.e. a photograph) (Taylor et al., 2017). To explore how social attraction differs based on whether an individual includes a selfie on a social media post or not, university students were presented the same Facebook status update with a selfie attached and one without a selfie. The participants were then asked to evaluate the selfie poster on a five-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) using statements such as “this person tends to want others to admire her” (Taylor et. al, 2017, p.611). Evidently, the study’s results were consistent with prior research, as it highlighted that people are more likely to perceive selfie posters as more narcissistic and less socially attractive than those who post status updates without a selfie (Taylor et al., 2017). The findings in this study are relevant because it gives insight into what factors contribute to the judgments that the audience viewing the selfies make.

During recent years, the selfie phenomenon has only continued to increase, bringing in more of an interest from researchers. Multiple works of literature have supported that people who take and post selfies are perceived as having more narcissistic traits (e.g., more egotistical, exhibit self-inflating behavior, and have more of a need to gain approval from others). The current study was developed to investigate how the type of photography posted (selfie, group photo, or professional photograph) on SNSs influence how they are perceived. In general, we predict that participants will rate a fictional Instagram user (Emma) as more narcissistic if “selfies” accompany her Instagram account than if “groupies” or “professional” photos accompany her account. More specifically, we predict that if participants are exposed to selfie photos, then they will believe that an Instagram user 1). updates her profile picture more frequently, 2). posts to her social media accounts more often, and 3). seems more self-absorbed, selfish, narcissistic, and egotistical, compared to participants exposed to either groupie or professional photos, though these latter two conditions should not differ from each other in their Instagram user ratings.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Chae, J. (2017). Virtual makeover: Selfie-taking and social media use increase selfie-editing frequency through social comparison. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 370-376. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.007
  3. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140. doi: 10.1177/001872675400700202
  4. Sung, Y., Lee, J.A., Kim, E., & Choi, S.M. (2016). Why we post selfies: Understanding motivations for posting pictures of oneself. Personality and Individual Differences, 97, 260-265. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2016.03.032
  5. Taylor, S. H., Hinck, A.S., & Lim, H. (2017). An experimental test of how selfies change social judgment on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(10), 610-614. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2016.0759.
  6. Weiser, E. B. (2015). #Me: Narcissism and its facets as predictors of selfie-posting frequency. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 477-481. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.07.007

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