A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 10, 2011

Who, Moi? How Social Media Increases Narcissism and Lowers Grades for Teens

We may be the most narcissistic civilization in history. Let's just leave that out there for argument's sake. Why is this different from the past? Because our predecessors frequently had to deal with more basic issues. Like survival.

So, times may be tough, but for most people survival is not the question, especially for those with access to a computer, mobile phone and the internet. Social media may therefore be an appropriate reflection of societal norms. The larger issue may be whether this has become a sort of opiate. We profess to be disgusted with politics, but those also reflect our narcissistic insistence in getting our own way. Marketing increasingly holds out the promise of delivering what we want, how and when we want it. In other words, our entire system is geared to this premise.

As Jordan Turgeon reports in Huffington Post, social media may instill some deleterious impulses, but it also offers solutions not necessarily found elsewhere in our societal toolbox. It is, like our civilization, a work in progress. We have learned as a species so far to avoid extinction. The guessing here is that social media is more of a contributor than not to that set of instincts. JL:
When it comes to teens and their social media habits, there's some great news and some not-so-great news. It can make your child a fast learner, but it is also associated with a host of psychological disorders.

The findings, part of a presentation on the effects of social media at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, were all culled from recent research by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., psychology professor at California State University.
For teens, social networking is much like "training wheels for life," Rosen told The Huffington Post. They post information and see how others react to it, learning as they go. One major benefit of this is that social networking can help shy teens become more comfortable and outgoing.

"Everybody knows that what you write is public, but because there's a screen in front of you, you feel somewhat anonymous," Rosen said.

Facebook can also have a positive impact on young adults' lives by helping them be more empathetic, Rosen says. His research shows people who engage in more Facebook activities -- more status updates, more photo uploads, more "likes" -- also display more virtual empathy. If someone posts he had a difficult day, and you post a comment saying, "Call me if you need anything," you've just displayed virtual empathy. Even better, Rosen's preliminary research suggests this could also translate into empathy in the real world.

Of course, it's not all positive news. Among other findings, Rosen discovered a relationship between heavy Facebook use and narcissism in teens. In another of Rosen's studies, students who frequently checked Facebook during study sessions also reported lower grades.

In order to minimize the negative effects, he emphasizes that parents talk to their kids about technology use at an early age and developed the acronym T.A.L.K. to help parents get that conversation started.

How early is early? Perhaps when they're still in diapers. "If you're going to give a 1-year-old an iPad to play with, you talk at that developmental level, about playing with a computer vs. playing with a toy. You try to continue this discussion at every developmental phase."

Rosen details more of his research in his forthcoming book, set for a 2012 release.

"Facebook is seven years old. We're not talking about an established media form ... we're talking about something that's very new," Rosen said. "People are starting to investigate how people use these technologies for good and bad."


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