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Exploring the association between social media, narcissism, empathy, the desire for fame and well-being.

Sandra Gountas, Curtin University; John Gountas, Murdoch University Abstract The use of social media is increasing across all ages and particularly in the young. At the same time, research indicates an increase in narcissism which may have negative impacts on individuals and society in general, for example, narcissism has a negative association with empathy and may lower satisfaction with life. Many researchers are concerned with increasing narcissism, particularly in the young, and the use of social media. The research explores the association between various Social Networking Sites and variance in levels of narcissism. Social Networking Sites provide communications platforms that are widely used by young people. Findings suggest that there are differences in usage and individual characteristics that could be used to improve social marketing communications. Background According to Greek Mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and was so absorbed by it that he could not move away and starved to death as a result. In modern times, narcissism is regarded as a clinical personality disorder causing a high level of selfabsorption, exploitative, manipulative tendencies and lack of empathy (Wallace and Baumeister, 2002). At the lower level, sub-clinical narcissism is found in varying degrees in normal, mentally healthy people who share similar characteristics (Bergman et al. 2011). Narcissists are characterised by their tendency to boast, eagerness to talk about themselves and boost their self esteem through public glory. This has implications for personal and business relationships. Narcissists have difficulty in developing and maintaining close relationships associated with genuine emotional warmth and empathy. Narcissists are apt to use relationships for self-serving effects reasons and are often aggressive in their interaction with others (Buffardi and Campbell, 2011). Furthermore, well established research indicates that business students are higher in narcissism than others, lower in empathy, more likely to cheat and find unethical business behaviours acceptable (Brown, Sautter, Littvay, Sautter and Bearnes, 2010). A major concern indicated by longitudinal studies suggests narcissism in young people is increasing with each generation (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell and Bushman, 2008). This may be attributed to an increased focus on self-esteem boosting and greater opportunities to self-promote through media (Buffardi and Campbell, 2008; Young and Pinsky, 2006). Narcissists are fame seeking and are more likely to do enjoy seeing themselves in mass media. Narcissists are more likely to have a sense of entitlement, be selfserving and less likely to contribute to others; they are social loafers who look for fame and glory through minimal effort (Twenge et al., 2008; Wallace and Baumeister, 2002). Interest in fame is increasing with around 16% of 16-19 year olds in the UK believing that they will become famous regardless of talent (Maltby, 2010). Previous studies have indicated that a high desire for fame is associated with extrinsic aspirations which eventually lead to dysfunctional behaviour and lower satisfaction with life (Gountas, Gountas and Moran, in press). Technology has enabled mass communication and broadcasting via television, radio and the internet and has allowed individuals to believe that they too have a reasonable chance at becoming famous (Learning and Skills Council 2006). Existing desires to be famous have been magnified and implemented by the use of technology (Choi and Berger, 2009). Reality

television programs offer everyday people the opportunity to appear on television, and the prospect of gaining, at a minimum, their 15 minutes of fame. Prospective contestants audition in the thousands for such programs (Maltby, Giles, Day, Quick, Linley & Langcaster-James, 2008; The Age, 2005). Social networking sites (SNS) are one such means used in attempts at gaining fame, and in some cases it has been used successfully to do so. Popular music singer Lilly Allen used the social networking site MySpace to aid in becoming a recognized singer, using the resulting attention to push herself into the spotlight. You tube has flourished as a social networking site for individuals to share video clips, with over 65,000 clips uploaded daily within seven months of its official launch. SNSs provide an opportunity for their users to self-promote and present themselves in a grandiose, exaggerated manner (Bergman et al. 2011; Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). The use of social network sites is a normal part of life for many these times when social networking attracts millions of users worldwide (Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). Various SNSs have large numbers of active users worldwide. Facebook currently has around 687 million, Twitter more than 100 million and YouTube more than two billion hits worldwide each day (Bradshaw, 2011; Gelles, 2010). Social networking offers the opportunity for ordinary people to interact with others, for self-presentation and even a way of constructing a new or adapted identity (Mehdizadeh, S., 2010; Kramer and Winter, 2008; Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). Although rapid and widespread communication with others has obvious benefits there are many concerns about potentially negative impacts associated with social networking; fearing that SNSs may not only provide an outlet for narcissists but may also cause or exacerbate the condition (Bergman, Fearrington, Davenport and Bergman, 2011; Twenge et al., 2008).The negative outcomes associated with narcissism previously mentioned, including lower self-esteem, healthy self-efficacy and increased materialism (Mehdizadeh, 2010; Twenge et al., 2008; Bushman and Baumeister, 1998), which imply potential individual and wider social impacts such as disregard for others at an individual and societal level. This study, explores the association between increasing narcissistic tendencies, the desire for fame and the use of social networking sites; and how these relate to selfism (narcissism), empathy, self-efficacy and satisfaction with life. Methodology The questionnaire was developed using existing constructs. Forty six items measure Self-efficacy (Schwarzer and Born, 1997), Selfism (Narcissism) and Empathy (Phares and Erskine, 1984) and Desire for Fame, (Gountas, Gountas and Moran, in press), Satisfaction with Life (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, Griffin, 1985). The items were measured on a five-point Likert scale, five representing strongly agree and one representing strongly disagree. In addition to gender and age, the participants were asked about their social media behaviour: whether they are regular users, which social sites they use, the time they spend each week updating personal pages, the importance of social networks to them and if they are happy for others to see information about them on social networking sites. Sample The sample was collected online, using an existing consumer panel. The participants received a $5 reward for participation. The sample comprises 421 participants aged 18-30 years;180 males, 242 females; 380 respondents use social media regularly with 220 spending less than one hour per week to update their personal pages, 102 spending up to two hour 51 up to five hours and 49 more than five hours. 266 participants agree that participating in social networks

is very important to them, and 293 are happy for others to see their personal information. Facebook is the most popular site with 389 users, followed by YouTube with 246; LinkedIn has 35regular users, My Space 43 and Twitter 76. The questionnaire took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Findings The data are analysed using correlations and analysis of variance to examine the relationships between the variables, motives for social network usage and if there difference in responses according to the social networks used. As shown in Table 1 there is a positive correlation between Selfism and the Desire for Fame but no significant relationship with empathy and satisfaction with life. Empathy is positively correlated with Satisfaction with Life. Table 1. Correlation Analysis Variable 1. Desire for fame 2. Selfism 3. Empathy 4. Satisfaction with life 5. Self-efficacy ** sig at 0.01 level M 2.29 3.12 3.55 3.09 3.41 SD 1 2 3 4 5 1.07 1 .659 .287** 1 .700 -.065 .060 1 .842 -.063 .093 .395** 1 .676 .007 .187 .326 .502** 1

As shown in Tables 2 and 3, there are significant differences between age groups in respect of the desire for fame with the youngest group 18-20 having the highest score of mean at 2.61. For gender, males score more highly than females for fame and selfism (mean = 2.95 and 3.19 respectively) than females (mean = 2.77, and 3.06 respectively). Females have a significantly higher mean score in empathy (mean = 3.72) than males (mean = 3.32). The respondents who regularly use social media appear to have a higher desire for fame and empathy. Facebook users have a higher significant score in desire for fame (mean = 2.87, and 2.33 respectively) than non-users (mean = 2.57 and 1.84 respectively). Linkedin users have higher desire for fame (mean = 2.78) than non-users (mean=2.25). My Space users have a higher significant score in desire for fame and Selfism (mean = 3.21and 3.37 respectively) than non-users (mean = 2.81, 2.22 and 3.09 respectively). Twitter have a higher significant score in desire for fame and Selfism (mean = 3.07, 2.61 and 3.27 respectively) than non-users (mean =2.80, 2.22 and 3.08 respectively). Table 2. One-Way ANOVA: Demographic and Social Media Choice Results Demographic and Factors SM Choice Age Desire for fame Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Sum of Squares 7.967 473.980 481.947 12.773 469.174 df 2 Mean sq 3.983 F 3.521 P .030

419 1.131 421 1 12.773 420 1.117

Desire for fame

11.434 .001




Satisfaction with life


Desire for fame

Satisfaction with life


Desire for fame

My Space

Desire for fame



Desire for fame


Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups

481.947 1.736 180.864 182.600 16.224 189.784 206.008 2.766 295.785 298.551 7.291 474.655 481.947 6.890 291.660 298.551 8.954 472.992 481.947 17.002 464.945 481.947 3.038 179.562 182.600 9.702 472.244 481.947 2.062 180.538

421 1 1.736 420 .431 421 1 16.224 420 .452 421 1 2.766 420 .704 421 1 7.291 420 1.130 421 1 6.890 420 .694 421 1 8.954 420 1.126 421 1 17.002 420 1.107 421 1 3.038 420 .428 421 1 9.702 420 1.124 421 1 2.062 420 .430



35.903 .000









15.359 .000







Table 3. Mean Scores of Social Media Users and Non Users Variable Facebook Linkedin My Space Youtube Twitter Users Non- Users Non- Users Non- Users Non- Users Nonusers users users users users 2.61 2.22 2.33 1.84 2.78 2.25 2.89 2.22 2.65 3.37 3.09 3.27 3.08 -

Desire for fame Selfism Empathy Satisfaction 3.12 with life

The results in Table 4 indicate that regular users of social media have a significantly higher desire for fame than non-users (mean = 2.34 and 1.89 respectively), significantly higher empathy than non-users (mean = 3.57 and 3.34respectively), and significantly higher satisfaction with life than non-users (mean = 3.13 and 2.72 respectively). Those who spend most time updating their web pages have a higher desire for fame (mean for more than five hours = 2.78 and less than one = 2.09). Where participation in social media is important there is a higher a higher desire for fame than no importance (mean = 2.42 and 2.07 respectively); higher empathy (mean = 3.62 and 3.43 respectively) and satisfaction with life (mean = 3.16 and 2.96 respectively). Those who are happy with others seeing them on SNSs have a higher desire for fame and empathy than those who are not happy (mean = 2.41 and 2.03 and respectively and mean = 3.60 and 3.43 and respectively). Table 4. One-Way ANOVA: Usage Regular Social Media use Desire for fame Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups 7.589 1 7.589 6.720 .010

474.358 420 1.129 481.947 421 2.107 1 2.107 203.90 420 421 1 6.322




Satisfaction with life




292.229 420 .696 298.551 421 24.223 3 8.074 457.724 418 1.095 481.947 421 12.247 1 12.247 10.951 .001 469.700 420 1.118

Time updating pages

Desire for fame



Importance of Participation

Desire for fame


Satisfaction with life

Public exposure

Desire for fame


Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Between groups Within groups Total Discussion

481.947 421 3.817 1 3.817 202.190 420 .481 206.008 421 4.069 1 4.069 294.481 420 .701





298.551 421 13.003 1 13.003 11.646 .001 466.943 420 1.117 481.947 421 2.658 1 2.658 203.349 420 .484 206.008 421



Social networking sites serve two key purposes: the opportunity to promote oneself and to interact with others. They are extremely popular and their popularity is still growing (Buffardi and Campbell, 2011).In spite of their usefulness there are potentially negative side effects, namely the impact and contribution to the increase in narcissism, lower self-esteem and satisfaction with life (Mehdizadeh, 2010). This study examines these important concerns with SNS usage. The findings indicate that the use of Twitter has the strongest relationship with the desire for fame and narcissism, followed by Facebook users. This is not to suggest that all SNS use is associated with negative characteristics or behaviours. Narcissism is generally found to be negatively associated with empathy, yet this study indicates that SNS use is associated with empathy for some. Therefore, it is very likely that an individuals motive for SNS use is an important factor. For example, SNSs may be an efficient way to communicate in business and education with no intention of excessive self-promotion or absorption but with a genuine interest in sharing information with others. For some people, participating in SNSs has a positive impact on satisfaction with life and an association with empathy, which is usually negatively associated with narcissism, which may reflect a benefit of greater social interaction available using this platform. However, there is sufficient evidence that SNSs may promote narcissism and therefore, negative subsequent attitudes and behaviours in some which needs to be further understood (Bergman et al., 2011). SNSs are widely used in mainstream marketing activities and are a very useful platform for many health and social marketing issues as well as profit making activities. The findings from this study indicate that certain concerns about social networking sites are probably well founded and these may have wider social implications. Young males seem to have higher desire for fame and narcissism. Therefore, further research that examines the cause and effect

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