“Study” on Facebook Narcissism and Insecurity not REAL Research

A hot story has been circulating for a few days now regarding a study done by undergraduate student Soraya Mehdizadeh of York University about how more active users of Facebook are more narcissistic and insecure than the rest of us. Problem is there’s nothing good enough about it to be called either a “study” or “research”.

The media is also to blame. I’m not sure whether to call the editors who allowed it on their popular news sources “stupid” for running the story like it’s legitimate news, or “smart but immoral” for putting it out knowing stuff like that sells, even if there’s no substance to it.

The greatest shame, though, has to go to the “journal” of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking for publishing it as if it were worthy of being called “academic” quality (study PDF). York University should be just as disgraced for letting that pass its standard for “academic research”, push it for publication and then blabber about it as if they had some meaningful research on their hands.

An above average high school student could have done a better job on such a project! Soroya basically did a bad high school project, if you ask me.

Think of that as a challenge for you high schoolers out there looking for a good Science Fair or other project to do. It’s a project that should be fun and engaging if you’re a Facebook fan, and there should be at least a few of you out there who qualify. Then social network together to pool results and get a decent sample size… which Soroya never even came close. And fix some flaws critiqued here.

Here are a few tragic fatal flaws of that “study”.

Lack of sample size with just 100 subjects

For a site with 500 million users, all Soroya can show for it is 100 users? I know it was an undergraduate thesis, but people used to have to work for their thesis, you know? Also, in the electronic media for this day and age, you’d think she could get more than 100 people to do some tests! If you were going to target 100, call it a term project and leave it at that! Don’t go screaming you’ve got a study on your hands and seek attention.

Oh, wait. I think that’s narcissism!

Which professor let that be called research anyway??? Soroya did publicly admit the sample size was a weakness to the “study”, but that’s not a weakness. That doesn’t constitute a study in this case. If I did a study of 1, I could say the same thing. Of course, nobody would call it a study due to the sample size of just 1. So at how many do you call a study, and why? With that many users and statistically significant polls of merit needing around 1000 subjects, 100 subjects is still way too few to be enough data to call a study!

Soroya also had the audacity to talk about gender differences on a sample size of 50 or so people! Did she ever take statistics? And who vetted this to allow it???

All subjects were 18-25 years old

Since when did humans outside of 18-25 years old not qualify as “people”? You can’t draw a conclusion for “Facebook users” on this demographic alone. The media did that more than Soroya, but she implied it enough not to title the study “18-25 year old Facebook users” for a subject group. And were the 100 selected even representative of all 18-25 year olds? There must be literature to determine that “average” to compare to the test group narcissism and insecurity profile. Hey, maybe 18-25 year olds at York are just more narcissistic and insecure than the typical group and uses Facebook as a symptom of it!

You can make that call. 🙂

Causality… or lack thereof

So are more active Facebook users narcissistic and/or insecure? Or are narcissistic and/or insecure people use Facebook more actively? Does Soroya know the difference? In case she doesn’t, let me clarify. The first is what the media story and her so-called “study” suggests. So everyone who uses Facebook more actively are narcissistic and insecure. The second means only some of the people who use Facebook more actively are narcissistic and/or insecure, and that you can’t tell if they are by the level of their Facebook activity.

But that doesn’t sell or cause a stir or make anybody care as people could have told you that on their own instinct and be right. I’m not even sure if narcissistic and/or insecure people use Facebook a lot because you’d also have to look at the ones who don’t use Facebook and see what portion they make up, never mind those who don’t use it much.

Soroya’s pretentious “research” can’t prove any causality, but she comments on all kinds of causality.

If I had to bet on any connection between Facebook usage and narcissism and/or insecurity, though, I’d easily bet on the second reason. I’d bet narcissistic and/or insecure people use Facebook more actively, not that more active users are narcisstic.

Carefully constructed self-image???

Beyond the ridiculous conclusions drawn by Soroya on causality, she then dared to speculate on meanings of symptoms of narcissism and insecurity. For example, the more active users had carefully constructed images of themselves, to project their best features and hide their worst, or that their profile is nothing really like them. Um. Does Soroya even know anything about Facebook usage?

The active users are the ones who get caught for affairs, missing work, lying to their friends, or just plainly do other less than appropriate things. They’re the ones Facebook etiquette guides were written for, cause they’re so blind to what their actions says about them to know better!

Reasons for Facebook usage unaccounted for

Does Soroya have any idea if people in this subject use Facebook for the same reasons as other demographics by any division? I mean, seniors tend to flock to Facebook and social media to be better up to date and involved in the lives of their adolescent or older grandchildren. Is that narcissism or insecurity?

Or maybe it’s love and caring. But wait, that doesn’t sell.

Some musicians I know add friends like crazy not because they care, but because they can show potential promoters and labels a nice base of fan support. Is that narcissism or insecurity?

Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned business and public relations. But wait, that doesn’t sell, either.

Final thoughts

There are many more problems with Soroya’s “high school project”. I don’t need to bore you with more as I think I’ve discredited it enough to make it worthless. I’ll just throw in a few commentaries to conclude.

Who knew it was so easy to get 15 minutes of fame these days?

I wonder what Soroya thought of Canadians possibly being among narcissistic and insecure people in the world. We have 47.9%  of the population connected, a higher percentage than any nation with over 10 million people. We also have the 4th most users in the world (CTV, June 2, 2010), without anywhere near the 4th largest population in the world! Would she have said most of us use Facebook passively like we are on a lot of things? Sure we didn’t all sign up only to be passive, did we?

High school students reading this, or Parents of them, try the challenge I had for high school students at the beginning. Seriously!

And where did Soroya get accepted into medical school? I won’t fault the school in case she didn’t tell them about this work to get in. For the love of God, Allah and the Buddha, I hope Soroya never be allowed to do research until she learns some more about what research is about! Just stick to areas in Med School one only has to memorize things or use one’s hands or something that doesn’t require research type of critical thinking!

But to end positively, congratulations for raising awareness on the Facebook usage issue, Soroya. I just wouldn’t have used sensationalism in the name of research to get credibility and attention.

By the way, Soroya, how did you fare on your own test?

Good luck in Med School. Just don’t tell the media which one accepted you for your school’s sake!



Other Facebook issue posts on my site:

The Prejudices and Privacy Perils of Facebook Quizzes

How to Get Rid of Your Facebook Past

25 Things For Facebook You Can’t Steal My ID With

25 Things You Gave on Facebook to Help Get Your ID Stolen

Una Guía de Netiqueta Práctica para Facebook

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 8.0

6 thoughts on ““Study” on Facebook Narcissism and Insecurity not REAL Research

  1. Similar criticisms:

    “While the study proves that Facebook more frequently attracts a certain personality type than others, the researchers completely ignore the subsection of people who are on Facebook for the entertainment value, not for personal flattery.

    Many people hear breaking news, see Internet memes and view music videos through Facebook, as well as use it as their main source of cultural connection.

    The study categorizes Facebook users based on a small subdivision of adults. My question is, can this be applied to every age group in every nation, or is it specific only to that small, randomly selected group?

    Trends might be trends, but let’s not forget that there are exceptions to every rule.”


  2. It is unfortunate that the author of this review was incapable of writing in an objective manner and feels the need to constantly resort to poor use of inverted commas to express his/her dislike of the researchers work.
    It is stated in the abstract of the study that correlation analyses were used. This study investigated the relationship between narcissism, self-esteem and facebook use. Causality and correlation are two very different things and it is important too be aware of the difference.
    The study was criticised for its sample size. A sample is just a small selection from a population. It does not seems unreasonably small in comparison to similar studies. Larger sample sizes are always desirable, but not always possible due to constraints in time and resources. Pelling and White’s (2009)study on planned behaviour and social networking sites used a sample of 233 students. Another study on conflict management in online relationships used a sample of 159 (Ishii, 2010). Another recent study by Park, Kee and Valenzuela (2009) used a sample of 1715 participants. For a site with 500 million users, testing a large percentage of users is never going to be feasible. Soraya Mehdizadeh’s study is just one piece or research. More research is needed to further investigate findings and explore other research questions.
    She was also criticised for using a sample of 18-25 year olds. It is apparent that the majority of people in this age group are facebook users so it is logical to target this group. Also, as an undergraduate, I believe Soraya was wise to use opportunistic sampling to find participants.
    Overall, there is room for improvement with this study and limitations and further study areas have been outlined in her discussion. I don’t think the study deserved such harsh criticism.

    • Thanks for the comments, Susan. You have some valid points, including the constant poor use of inverted commas. This isn’t a magazine, or a job, and I don’t always have the time to edit so the writing quality isn’t always up to snuff. The content is all I care to get across well.

      On that point, the harsh criticisms I dished out were totally deserved. Soraya should know better than to let the media run with things like she did. If so, she acted as if she didn’t know better, and didn’t have the morality it took to stand up and state the study’s shortcomings for what it was worth. It was either “was she stupid enough not to realize it” or “too greedy to let it go and benefit from the hype”. It doesn’t look good on her either way, and I’m not going to give her the benefit of the doubt given all the shortcomings in the study in the first place. I’d have expected better work, especially on sample size… especially given what social media is supposed to be able to give us.

      So everyone is entitled to their opinion on the research. I respect that and love the rights we have for free speech. However, I’m standing by my opinions 100%.

  3. A defensive teenager could write an equally harsh ‘article’ about this ‘study’.

    I don’t need a study – I know INSTANTLY from my 200 friends on facebook that the frequent users are the ones who are VAIN and NARCISSISTIC, capital letters 🙂
    These are people who feel that their world is important and significant, facebook allows them to feel like they are the centre of attention.

    That is not to say that they are ONLY vain/narcissistic… humans are narcissists by nature (to varying degrees)… but they also have an abundance of other positive personality traits.

    So simply put, frequent FB users ARE narcissists and insecurists.

    • A teenager would know your 200 Facebook friend sample size is hardly a worthy sample size to judge the world… and s/he wouldn’t even need to be defensive or insecure.

      A teenager would also know you’re more judgmental than is beneficial for your own good.

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