Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists show an increased risk of developing a Facebook addiction, according to a study published in PLOS One. The researchers further found that this inclination toward social networking addiction may represent a coping mechanism for heightened anxiety.
Narcissism is a highly discussed personality trait that involves feelings of entitlement and superiority over others. Because social networking sites are rampant with opportunities for self-promotion and ego-boosting, these platforms may be particularly alluring for narcissists. Studies have indeed shown that narcissism is associated with high levels of Facebook use.
While grandiose narcissism has received most of the attention within this field of research, a study led by Julia Brailovskaia aimed to clarify the link between vulnerable narcissism and intensive Facebook use.
Grandiose narcissism is characterized by a sense of entitlement, a skill for self-promotion, and an ability to garner admiration from others. Vulnerable narcissism, on the other hand, also involves a sense of entitlement but is accompanied by a heightened sensitivity to social evaluation and low self-esteem. While grandiose narcissism appears to be linked to Facebook addiction through the need for popularity and the need to belong, less is known about why vulnerable narcissism might lead to Facebook addiction.
A study was conducted among 327 Facebook users located in Germany with an average age of 23. All participants completed measures of vulnerable narcissism, grandiose narcissism, anxiety symptoms, and Facebook Addiction.
Using regression analyses, the researchers found that anxiety was the strongest predictor of Facebook Addiction. This was not surprising, Brailovskaia and colleagues say, given that the intensive use of social media may function as a method of coping, allowing a retreat from real-world stressors and obligations. This can quickly lead to a maladaptive cycle, as more time spent online interferes with offline interactions, leading to reduced social skills and social confidence, thus reinforcing the desire to retreat to the online world.
Both types of narcissism were also significant predictors of Facebook Addiction, with vulnerable narcissism being a much stronger predictor than grandiose narcissism. The authors further found that anxiety mediated the relationships between both types of narcissism, suggesting that anxiety plays an important role in social media addiction among narcissists. As the authors relate, “The higher the narcissism level, the more anxiety symptoms are experienced that foster the development of addictive tendencies.”
The mediating effect of anxiety was stronger for vulnerable compared to grandiose narcissism. Brailovskaia and colleagues describe vulnerable narcissists as being caught in a cycle where their fear of judgment leads them to avoid social situations and miss out on opportunities for positive feedback from others. This, combined with their high self-entitlement, leads them to seek positive feedback online, where they can control their persona thoughtfully and carefully. This may then cause vulnerable narcissists to become reliant on the online world, with it being the only place that successfully boosts their troubled self-esteem. Thus, while both forms of narcissism appear to be related to problematic social networking use, vulnerable narcissism appears to be particularly maladaptive.
Still, the results suggest that the two types of narcissism may be more similar than typically thought. Brailovskaia and colleagues explain, “even though–in contrast to vulnerable narcissists–grandiose narcissists are characterized by a self-confident and extraverted self-presentation offline and online, there seem to be hidden characteristics of insecurity and anxiety associated with this form of narcissism that enhance the risk to develop addictive tendencies on Facebook.” Grandiose narcissists, then, may simply be better at hiding their anxiety.
The researchers conclude that their findings suggest that narcissists may benefit from interventions focusing on dealing with anxiety symptoms in a healthy way, in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming emotionally connected to social networking.
The study, “The anxious addictive narcissist: The relationship between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, anxiety symptoms and Facebook Addiction”, was authored by Julia Brailovskaia, Elke Rohmann, Hans-Werner Bierhoff, and Jürgen Margraf.