Does Facebook turn people into narcissists? A writer in the New York Times Magazine asked this question recently.
This came in the wake of the Internet giant's fallout moment, a tumultuous Initial Public Offering last month, which sent investors reeling after a near 25 per cent initial drop in share prices.
The writer cites research from Western Illinois University, one of many studies done on the social network, which says that Facebook may reflect the mental health, personality traits, and facilitate the most narcissistic tendencies of its users.
People who frequently updated their Facebook status, tagged themselves in photos and had large numbers of virtual friends, are said to be more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits.
Those tendencies are displayed in the ritual hour or more a day they spend online, e.g. posting digitally-enhanced personal photos and self-promoting messages.
Narcissism, psychologists say, is a personality disturbance marked by an exaggerated investment in one's image at the expense of the self. It is also considered to be a cultural condition.
Such is the problem that afflicted persons are said to deny any personal qualities that contradict the image they seek.
"They tend to be seductive and manipulative, striving for power and control. They are egotists, focused on their own interests, but lacking true values of self — namely, self-expression, self-possession, dignity and integrity," writes Alexander Lowen in his Narcissism: Denial of the True Self.
"Without a solid sense of self, they experience life as empty and meaningless. It is a desolate state."
It also involves a degree of unreality in both the individual and the culture. That unreality is said to be not just neurotic, but verges on the psychotic.
"There is something crazy about a pattern of behaviour that places achievement of success above the need to love and be loved," he writes. The same when a person is out of touch with the reality of his or her being — the body and its feelings. The narcissist, however, is far from insane, he assures.
But can a culture be insane? The idea he saw as hardly an accepted concept in psychiatry. "Unless… unless, of course, there was some insanity in the culture."
In the "frenzied activity" of persons who pursue money-making ruthlessly, and are strategic social climbers he saw signs of insanity.
Last week, on a visit to New York, I found much relevance in the above, and particularly in the statement of one "Trini-Yorker" who described our political activity in Trinbago as a narcissistic comedy of made-for- television material.
Through distant lens, he summarised: "Politics in Trinbago is television script material; it's a kind of insanity… daily absurdities, dying institutions, the loss of values among the politicians…a real tragedy.
"Do politicians understand where they are taking the country? It's a soap opera… an amusement park, but in the end unless Trinbago's dwindling energy reserves are managed now!...we all will be a tragedy.…"
His comments later gained more traction to me when I read the article in the Washington Post headlined "Why we lie", based on Dan Ariely's The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.
Using what he called a "Matrix Task", Ariely says that everyone is driven by two opposing motivations and is capable of just a little lying and cheating.
So what makes people lie? Among the factors are a culture which accepts incidents of dishonesty; people watching leaders behave dishonestly and benefitting from their dishonesty; widespread immoral acts and conflicts of interests.
The survey was done in the US, but it has applicability for us here. As the negative campaigns heat up in the US for its November presidential elections, its leaders are facing the same moral questions we are facing.
Fortunately for their electorate neither their President nor his challenger has been accused of being narcissistic, nor are there questions of dishonesty.
Back to Facebook, researchers in another joint university study said they were surprised to discover that its frequent use was not widely associated with narcissism, but their information suggested that narcissism exists mainly among "those who amassed an unrealistically large numbers of friends".
Those persons received high scores for "openness", and less for "privacy". Alternatively, they suggested that it may be an over-simplification to say that Facebook was for narcissists.
Overall, the various studies do not answer whether Facebook turns people into narcissists or simply attracts narcissists.
Self-promoting behaviour may be just the reflection of a generation growing up in the digital age, where information, including personal details, flows freely and connects us all, one study says.
In fact, most people share information about themselves as a way of maintaining relationships; it suggested that Twitter, and not Facebook, appeared to be the medium of choice for the self-absorbed. They found an association between tweeting about oneself and high narcissism scores.
It is like our politics — high scores of narcissism, low scores for legitimacy.
* Keith Subero, a former
Express news editor, has
since followed a career in