Is Facebook a forum for narcissists (and maybe also for narcissistic researchers?)

Facebook is providing a fertile hunting ground for simplistic “research” by a new breed of “researchers”. Social psychology is still just a discipline and has yet to reach the level of a “science”. But I note that surveys of Facebook users is multiplying and seems to have  become a new field of social psychology. The surveys are easily done, usually include a sample size of just a few hundred (small enough to access on a University campus or in a town square) and draw fanciful conclusions to capture the headlines. They provide an easy way to publication. Such “Facebook research” is not “bad science” – if even “science” at all – but much of it is trivial and just provides a quick, cheap way of getting published. In this case the “research” has been done by someone from the School of Computing at the University of Portsmouth.

The University of Portsmouth has issued a press release  about a survey which finds that “Using Facebook to look at old photos of yourself and wall posts that you have written could be as soothing as a walk in the park” and this has received much coverage. But whereas the “researchers” find this beneficial, what they they seem to be describing is a sort of narcissistic – and not very healthy – behaviour. Narcissism is when a healthy self-esteem crosses over into being an unhealthy obsession with one’s self and I would have thought that the survey results are a warning sign. But of course the behaviour described would be considered beneficial – by another narcissist.

Using Facebook to look at old photos of yourself and wall posts that you have written could be as soothing as a walk in the parkAlmost 90 percent of users access the site to look at their own wall posts, and three quarters look at their own photos when they are feeling low, new research has found.

A report by Dr Alice Good, of the University of Portsmouth, has found that this kind of ‘self soothing’ use of Facebook is actually beneficial to the user’s mood, especially if they are prone to feeling low. This directly contradicts previous research that has suggested that looking at Facebook can be bad for your mental health.

Dr Alice Good

Dr Good said: “We were very surprised by these findings, which contradict some recent reports.  Although this was only a small study, we will go on to study larger groups to see if the results remain consistent.”

Dr Good, of the School of Computing, quizzed 144 Facebook users and found that people often use the social network to reminisce, using old photos and wall posts as a form of comfort.

Looking back at older photos and wall posts is the main activity, and the one that made them happiest.

Psychologist Dr Clare Wilson, of the University of Portsmouth says:

“Although this is a pilot study, these findings are fascinating. Facebook is marketed as a means of communicating with others. Yet this research shows we are more likely to use it to connect with our past selves, perhaps when our present selves need reassuring.

“The pictures we often post are reminders of a positive past event. When in the grips of a negative mood, it is too easy to forget how good we often feel. Our positive posts can remind us of this.”

The survey also found that people who have experienced mental health issues are particularly comforted by the site. Dr Good said: “The results indicate we could use self-soothing as a form of treatment for low moods.”

The study has concluded that looking at comforting photos, known as reminiscent therapy, could be an effective method of treating mental health.

Scientists already know that reminiscent therapy helps older people with memory problems.

The use of old photos, items and films can provide a way for people with short-term memory loss to feel comforted by objects that are familiar to them.

This new research shows that it could also an effective treatment for people with depression or anxiety.

The act of self-soothing is an essential tool in helping people to calm down, especially if they have an existing mental health condition. If a patient self soothes there is less chance of a problem escalating.

The report also looked at ways of accessing Facebook, with phones being the most popular method and 94 per cent admitting they had their phone on them at all time, with around 70 per cent actually preferring to access Facebook using their phone over more conventional methods, such as a PC or laptop, suggesting people have a desire for immediacy, both in accessing the site as well as for viewing photos.

This study is part of a larger research project that looks at how applications can support wellbeing and effectively self soothe.

This research is published in the journal ‘Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction’. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.


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2 Responses to “Is Facebook a forum for narcissists (and maybe also for narcissistic researchers?)”

  1. VR Suresh Says:

    Just about all sorts of social networking (and blogging), both online and offline, are ways for narcissists to indulge their admiration and love for themselves. It is no surprise that looking at old letters and photo albums takes one down memory lane and the human brain being what it is, the “good old days” usually seem “good”. While Facebook users and bloggers who are older than (say, 35-40 years) would have (usually) already got other business to worry about, it is this under 30 crowd that are so hooked on Facebook and Twitter and all these other sites that these seriously interfere with all other activities. All this participation in candlelit vigils and marathons and gatherings may be done in the name of social awareness but the real objective is to post pictures of themselves at these events and tag each other.

  2. Remy Ollier Says:

    Talking to 144 facebook users can hardly be referred to as ‘research’. What Dr Good ‘concluded’ is more of an ‘assumption’ and can hardly be taken seriously. We already know that depression is caused by some occurence of the past, by past conditioning most commonly known as ‘baggage’. People who suffer from depression constantly dwell on the past. Suggesting that ‘looking at old photos can have a soothing effect on sufferers may be true. Short term maybe but it doesn’t get to the root of the depression. We know that memories of bad experiences from the past, lays dormant until triggered by some situations that slighty resembles theses bad experiences and the depression arises. Then lays dormant again until the next ‘episode’. To suggest that people should go and look at old photos or at the past to help their depression is quite irresponsible. It is more likely to increase their addiction to facebook and keep them trapped in their depression. Making such assumption based on talking to 144 people is ridiculous. The danger here is that most people who suffer from depression are more suggestible than most and can take this article seriously. They can find comfort by developing a stronger addction to Facebook. I take this article with a pinch of salt. Read the book ‘Practising the power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle and learn how to drop the Ego to get rid of depression.

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