Who uses Facebook? The simple answer is a whole lot of people: The online social network has more than 600 million members.
But what sets them apart from those who use the Internet but have chosen not to play in Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual playground? New research from Australia provides some less than flattering answers.
“Facebook users tend to be more extroverted and narcissistic, but less conscientious and socially lonely, than non-users,” Tracii Ryan and Sophia Xenos of RMIT University in Melbourne write in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Instead of falling in love with his own image in a pond, today’s narcissist apparently gazes adoringly at his own Facebook profile.
Seeing a gap in the literature (most previous surveys of Facebook users have been limited to university students), Ryan and Xenos decided to survey a wider range of Internet users in Australia (where, they report, nearly half the population consists of active Facebook users). Their sample consisted of 1,324 participants, all between the ages of 18 and 44. All but 166 of them were Facebook users.
The participants completed a 124-question online survey, which measured such things as their “big five” personality traits (extr0version, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience), narcissistic tendencies, shyness, loneliness, and the specifics of their Facebook usage.
Among Facebook users, the amount of time spent on the site per day varied widely. Seventeen percent of users reported they spent 10 minutes or less, 24 percent between 10 and 30 minutes, 23 percent between 31 and 60 minutes, 17 percent between one and two hours, and 19 percent two hours or more.
“There was a significant positive correlation between time spent on Facebook per day and two of the personality variables: neuroticism and total loneliness,” the researchers report.
“The most preferred Facebook features were photos, messages, the wall and status updates. Games, notes and events were least preferred. Both the wall and messages appear to be the preferred means of communication on Facebook.”
Ryan and Xenos report Facebook appeals to a wide variety of people, and it “gratifies its users in different ways depending on their individual characteristics.” That said, their descriptions of the personality types that gravitate to the site are a bit disturbing.
“Firstly, Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism and leadership than Facebook non-users,” they write. “Secondly, individuals with higher scores on exhibitionism also have higher preferences for photos and status updates (than the site’s other features).”
These findings “substantiate the proposition that Facebook is particularly appealing for narcissistic and exhibitionistic people,” they conclude. “In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.”
“One of the most noteworthy findings was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals,” they add. “For lonely people in particular, it appears they are mainly using Facebook to partake in passive activities, instead of providing active social contributions.”
It’s worth repeating that these findings are exclusively from Australia, and thus not necessarily representative of Facebook’s worldwide membership. And the number of nonusers in the study was relatively small. So this study cannot be called definitive.
Nevertheless, its findings suggest narcissists use Facebook to inflate their already puffed-up egos, while lonely people passively navigate it, observing the life that is passing them by. Perhaps both groups would be better off watching a good movie — say, The Social Network.