Social Media

Why Insecure Narcissists Depend On Social Media

A study finds it's the entitled-but-insecure who rely most on Twitter and Facebook for an ego boost

Social Media
Illustration: Diana Quach
Jul 11, 2016 at 2:39 PM ET

Thanks to all the selfies and unironically #blessed hashtags, social media often seems like a playground for raging, egomaniacal narcissists. But a new study suggests it’s a different kind of narcissist—the shy, insecure, and hypersensitive type—that is most dependent on digital ego-polishing services like Twitter and Facebook.

Researchers from the University of Florence had 535 students take a series of tests to evaluate them for narcissism. Specifically, they looked at ratings on scales for grandiose narcissism, which is associated with arrogance and aggression, and vulnerable narcissism, which is linked with “a defensive and insecure sense of grandiosity,” as the study puts it.

The researchers also evaluated the participants for “problematic” internet usage, using a survey that measures things like difficulty refraining from going online and turning to the internet when feeling depressed.

The study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that vulnerable narcissists showed more problematic internet usage and a stronger preference for online (as opposed to IRL) social interaction than grandiose narcissists and non-narcissists alike. Past research has also shown that vulnerable narcissists are more comfortable with online social interaction.

Surprisingly, the researchers found no significant differences between grandiose narcissists and non-narcissists. This contradicts recent research suggesting that grandiose narcissists, which have been the focus of past research in this arena, are more likely than non-narcissists to engage in “problematic” internet usage.

“This suggests that [social networking sites] might be the preferred tool among vulnerable narcissists to gain approval and admiration, whereas they might be just one of many tools grandiose narcissists use to achieve narcissistic goals,” the researchers wrote. In other words, the internet is filled with narcissists—but some of them feel really bad about themselves, OK?