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    The Role of Narcissism in Profile Picture Selection Essay

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    As technology becomes increasingly a major part of our everyday lives, much of our interpersonal communication and interactions occurs online through online networks. Within the past decade, the introduction of social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, places a new emphasis on first impressions. Instead of engaging in interpersonal communication and forming our own first impressions, an individual’s online profile picture presents a digital first impression, portraying one’s physical appearance, personality and character to their audience. As a society, we are motivated to constantly update, maintain and grow our online presences, gaining more connections, friends and followers via these social networking sites.

    Sanja Kapidzic, author of “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, from the Institut fur Kommunikationswisschenschaft und Medienforschung in Munchen, Germany, discusses a study regarding the correlation between narcissism and the personalization of online profile portrayal. In this study titled “Narcissism as a Predictor of Motivations Behind Facebook Profile Picture Selection,” Sanja Kapidzic focuses his research on the relationship between narcissism and the motivation behind self-presentation through profile pictures. By definition, narcissism is “the pursuit of gratification from vanity and egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes that derive from arrogant pride.” In relation to the study, narcissism relates to the online self-presentation of individuals with constant status updates or the display of self-promoting pictures pieces of media. Social networking sites allow narcissistic individuals the platform to present their profiles, while placing emphasis on features with the possibility of gaining admiration and attention.

    In general, the study explores whether narcissism influences an individual’s motivation behind selecting a profile picture for a social networking site. In relation to narcissism, this study looks at motivation with three categories: physical, personal and social factors. Self-presentation plays an essential role in SNS with the choosing of a personal image reflecting yourself, or your Facebook profile picture. Aside from narcissism, the study analyzes motivational factors in selecting a profile picture with gender specific stereotypes about appearances and the incorporation of social ties in the photo. Incorporating previous research, the connection between narcissism and online self-presentation also relates to the personality of the individual. According to the dynamic self-regulatory processing model of narcissism, an individual with a higher level of narcissism has a “highly inflated, positive self-concept and concern with their physical appearance.” With the addition of SNS now engraved into our daily routines, previous interpersonal interactions now occur online, where narcissists seek personal attention and positive feedback on their online profiles.

    Taking this previous research into consideration, this study took into account specific variables, such as age, self-esteem and the frequency of Facebook usage. Logistically, the study surveyed two hundred eighty eight college aged, communications students from a large Midwestern university. The participants ranged from age 18 to 25 years old with half men and women. The students were asked to respond to various surveys incorporating the following topics: narcissism, motivation attractiveness, motivation personality, motivation social ties, self-esteem and Facebook use. Each survey consisted of different response rating scales following each individual’s personal preferences and personalities.

    In response to the data and research questions, narcissism concluded to be a predictor in motivation of selecting pictures based on attractiveness. In comparison to the control variables of age, self-esteem and Facebook use, the hypothesis proved that narcissism is a motivating factor based on the individual’s personality. However, narcissism was not the leading predictor in relation to motivation for social ties or gender differentiation. In conclusion, the study further progressed the link between psychology and social media by connecting the levels of narcissism in the individuals’ online presence. Those individuals with higher levels of narcissism have different intrinsic motivation regarding their online profile than those with lower levels of narcissistic behavior.

    The importance of this study reinforces the research and connection between psychology and the influence of social media in our society. Personality, behavior and motivation are all key psychology concepts that relate to our constantly evolving digital society. As we discussed in class, theories of motivation, such as the incentive motivation theory, also relates to this study. The incentive theory states that we are motivated to receive something in return for our actions. Naturally, people want to be rewarded for an action with some sort of incentive, such as food or money. In this case, individuals who scored higher levels of narcissism are looking for the incentive of “likes” or social approval. The act of receiving a “like” or “comment” on an image or personal status on Facebook drives the desire for the self-promotion and an attractive social presence to their audience.

    In relation to this article, I thought about my own personal experiences and my social networking sites profiles. As a member of the “Millennial generation”, I would consider myself to be a “digital native,” an individual who has grown up surrounded by media and social networking sites. I currently manage multiple social networking sites including: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. After reading and analyzing this article, I assessed my own motivation in choosing profile pictures or uploading photos, which display my personality and image online. As a result, I agree completely with the idea of connecting this motivation with narcissism. I personally think that everyone encompasses at least some level of narcissism online, where they are motivated to display their best version of themselves. However, some people who may fall higher on the scale of narcissism will post more photos revolving around themselves. For example, a few of my friends on Facebook will spend hours editing a photo of them, blurring out imperfections or cropping the right angle to capture their best pose. By taking the time and effort to enhance their photos, their motivation is derived from presenting their most attractive profile picture to their online audience.

    Instagram is another example of this motivation incentive. Instagram is a social media platform, where individuals can upload photos, add filters and share with their followers. Followers have the opportunity to “like” their favorite photos. Similar to the Facebook example, people may spend hours choosing the perfect filter to add to their photo, resultantly uploading a brighter and more color enhanced image. Instagram presents a popular platform for the modernized “selfie” photo, where individuals post photos of themselves in various poses. With the incentive to gain the most “likes” per photo, individuals who post numerous edited photos present the case for motivational theories and possibly higher levels of narcissism.

    Aside from Facebook and Instagram, the professional social media platform, LinkedIn, also presents motivation in choosing profile pictures. While deciding upon a profile picture for LinkedIn, individuals seek a more professional appearance of themselves. Although not driven by the incentive for likes, individuals still present a level of narcissism in choosing to present their most professional appearance and demeanor on LinkedIn. The culture of this social media platform revolves around seeking attention and admiration of their photo and professional accomplishment from potential employers. In this sense, individuals all have a level of narcissism, but probably not as strong as adhering to the online presences on other social networking sites.

    In relation to class discussion, this study connects to the Social Learning Theory and the Psychosocial Theory. The Social Learning Theory, introduced by Albert Bandura, focuses on the three main triadic and reciprocal factors: cognitions, behavior, and environment, which interact and our behaviors. Cognitions involve our skills, knowledge, ability, personal preferences and self-efficacy. Behaviors derive from enactive learning and previous experiences. Environment enforces learning from observational learning from the world around us. As these three factors interact, individuals learn from themselves, others and the surroundings. In correlation to the study, this theory presents reasons why we develop our online behaviors. Living in a society revolving around digital profiles and social networking sites, we are influenced by the online world. Through our learned behavior and the cognition driven by our shifting online culture, individuals inherit a more narcissistic attitude toward their online presence.

    Along with Social Learning Theory, we focused on Psychosocial Theory in personality development. Psychosocial Theory, introduced by Erik Erikson describes that the development of our personalities are driven by culture. As individuals progress through the stages of development, our personalities are constantly adapting between hereditary instincts and the culture and family environment around us. Referring to the relationship between narcissism and online profiles, this theory presents ideas about how narcissism is developed through self-promoting cultures. With a heavy emphasis on self-presentation in our culture, it is inevitable that personality will develop to match the attitude of the environment.

    As I analyzed this study, critical thinking played a key role in understanding the main points and connections to psychology concepts. Critical thinking consists of three components: affective, behavioral and cognitive. The affective component refers to emotions. As I focused on the concepts presented in this article, I accepted the truth above my own self-interest. Prior to reading this study, I did not view myself as a narcissistic person. However, after putting aside personal biases, I understand how many people can have narcissistic viewpoints. Through critical thinking, I could accept change and modify my own viewpoints and beliefs on the subject.

    Following critical thinking, I also explored the behavioral components while analyzing the study. The behavioral components refer to delaying judgments, gathering different types of data and realizing you’re wrong. While reading the study, I delayed judgments until collecting data of my own. Taking the core concepts from the article, I explored online profile pictures that my own Facebook friends selected. As a result, I discovered similar data supported in the study, where many of my female friends selected profile pictures emphasizing physical attractiveness. Comparing my own simple data to the data presented in the case proved to be beneficial in understanding the psychology concepts.

    Lastly, critical thinking entails the cognitive component. The cognitive component explains thinking independently, using deductive reasoning and applying metacognition to your findings. For this study, I focused on deductive thinking by reasoning from general to specific thoughts. For example, by connecting my own personal experiences to the data presented in the study, I focused on narrowing down from a larger idea into more concise examples. By applying metacognition, thinking about one’s own thinking, I was able to connect the data and psychology concepts to my own choices. Specifically speaking, after reading this study, I will be more consciously aware of my selection process in customizing my online profile picture. What I choose to self-promote in my online photos speaks to a larger audience and conveys certain messages about my personality and my character.

    In summary, this study focused on the relationship between physical, personal and social factors and narcissism motivations in choosing profile pictures on social networking sites. As the data concludes, narcissism is a predictor in emphasizing physical attractiveness and personality in the motivation of selecting photos. By comparing this conclusion to my own personal experiences on social networking sites, I agree with the statement that narcissism is a motivation factor in portraying a certain image to our online audience. However, it is how we choose to portray our personality and character through visual images that indicates the apparent level of narcissism. Driven by a social networking dominated culture, the motivation to present one’s best self-image online has become innate. In conclusion, if a single profile picture can form a lasting first impression, why not make it memorable?

    Works Cited

    Kapidzic, S. (2013). Narcissism as a predictor of motivations behind Facebook profile picture selection. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 16(1), 14-19. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0143

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