Science Says Social Media Might Affect Your Personality Way More Than You Think

I tend to be a little cynical about social media. I had to stop using Instagram, for example, because it bummed me out whenever I went into a scrolling rabbit hole — you know, like when you somehow end up on the Insta feed of your ex's new partner's mother's hair salon? For the most part, I'd grown too concerned with how I looked on my profiles, how other people looked online, and how social media affects your personality as a result. After all, engaging in these constant comparisons sounds like a pretty self-destructive, and even somewhat self-centered mindset to be in, don't you think?

Well, it turns out a new study suggests that spending a lot of time on these platforms can affect your personality in some ways, and not exactly for the better. The new research comes from Swansea University in the UK and Milan University in Italy, and according to a press release about the study, the researchers argue that "excessive posting of photos on social media" is linked to increased narcissism. And just as an FYI before I go on, narcissistic traits, as per the Mayo Clinic, include things like an inflated sense of one's own importance, an excessive need for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy, to name a few.

So here's how the study was done: According to the press release, the researchers followed 74 people between 18 and 34 years old over the course of four months, and during that time, they tracked the participants' social media use (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat), as well as any noticeable changes in personality. To measure those changes in personality, the research paper explains, the researchers used what's called the Narcissism Personality Inventory, which is basically an assessment that lays out several different pairs of statements, and the participant's job is to choose the statements that they feel best reflect their personality.

In terms of general time spent on social media platforms, the study's results, which have been published in The Open Psychology Journal, showed that about 60 percent of the participants used Facebook regularly, roughly 25 percent used Instagram, and only about 13 percent of the participants used Twitter and Snapchat on a consistent basis.

Here's where things get a little more interesting: The study's press release states that more than two-thirds of the participants "primarily used social media for posting images." And for those who were found to use social media the most — and, more specifically, those who used the platforms to post photos — they showed about a 25 percent increase in narcissistic traits over the course of the four-month study, the press release explains.

That's kind of a big increase in a very short amount of time, guys. Anyone else a little shook RN?

The study's lead author, Phil Reed, of the department of psychology at Swansea University, said in a statement for the press release,

There have been suggestions of links between narcissism and the use of visual postings on social media, such as Facebook, but, until this study, it was not known if narcissists use this form of social media more, or whether using such platforms is associated with the subsequent growth in narcissism. The results of this study suggest that both occur, but show that posting selfies can increase narcissism.

In other words, it's basically a chicken or the egg debacle: Are narcissistic people simply more drawn to photo-sharing platforms on social media, or does spending time on these platforms make you more narcissistic? Well, as far as Reed and his team are concerned, it's a little bit of both. But before you start feeling super bummed and embarrassed about your love of selfies and Instagram stalking, let me just say that this is one study, and it doesn't necessarily mean you are completely full of yourself if you enjoy these platforms or taking pictures of yourself.

What it does mean, though, is that it's probably best to be mindful of how you engage with social media. "From my own research, I found that the way in which we engage in social media is a reflection of our personality," Amanda Lomanov, Psy.D., a psychotherapist based in California, tells Elite Daily over email, "meaning that you will use social media in a way that is congruent with the traits you already have."

But, she adds, there's also the issue of what she calls a "positive feedback loop" when you use social media. "The more that someone is reinforced for their 'narcissism,' the more they will engage in that behavior," she explains, "which may increase the extent to which someone exhibits a personality trait." In other words, if you're getting lots of "likes" on all your selfies (aka positive reinforcement), then you're probably going to keep posting selfies, right? It's a loop that never really ends.

So, again, posting a lot of selfies, or spending a lot of time on social media in general, doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean you're a full-blown narcissist. Consider all of this food for thought — something to think about the next time you're feeling anxious about how many "likes" you're raking in on a selfie you posted.

Another big thing to keep in mind here, Lomanov says, is how often you're having in-person interactions, as she says this awareness might help you get out of your own head. "One way that I think social media is affecting our society as a whole is that it's replacing meaningful, in-person dialogues, and making us less likely to try to understand or even just tolerate dissenting points of view," she tells Elite Daily.

So, why not put down the phone for a little bit, and go have a talk with a friend you haven't seen in a while IRL? It might be kind of refreshing to focus on someone else — you know, the real person, not their digital profile — for a change.