The Senses of Self Within Facebook, A Study Summary

Marshall, T. C., Lefringhausen, K., & Ferenczi, N. (2015). The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 35-40. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.04.039. Retreived 6 March 2017 from



Facebook - The most widely used social media website/application where people can share highlights of their lives or status updates for others’ viewing and reaction.

Social Networking - The use of solely purposed websites and applications to interact with other users or to find people with similar interests to yourself.

Status Updates - A brief post or blur of information regarding one’s current feelings or activities. Voluntarily posted/shared through social media, usually Facebook.


The Big Five - A five factor model based on common summarizing terms regarding personality and character. Normally defined as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.


Self-esteem - Confidence in or respect for one’s own abilities or value/worth.


Narcissism - Excessive interest in one’s self-image and physical appearance.



Since the global release of Facebook in 2004, status updates have been a critical feature of the service, being one of the most widely used features. However, though status updates are a central role of Facebook use, few studies have examined the predictors of the topics that people choose to write about in their updates. The current study takes a step in this direction by examining personality traits associated with the frequency of updating about various topics identified through a factor analytic approach: social activities and everyday life, intellectual pursuits, accomplishments, diet/exercise, and significant relationships. It was also measured whether these associations related to some of the motives for using Facebook, need for validation (seeking attention and acceptance), self-expression (disclosing personal opinions, stories, and complaints), communication (corresponding and connecting), and sharing impersonal information (current events).

Another purpose of this study was to examine whether people who update more frequently about certain topics receive greater numbers of likes and comments on their updates. Those who receive greater levels of feedback may experience the benefits of social inclusion, whereas those who do not might experience a lower sense of belonging and self-esteem within their social sphere.

When viewed in perspective of the “Big Five” personality spectrum, people vary in terms of the earlier defined characteristics. Based on past studies, these categories of general behavior have proven to affect Facebook updates’ content as well as feedback received.

People who are extraverted are gregarious, talkative, and cheerful. They tend to use Facebook as a tool to communicate and socialize, as seen in their more frequent use of Facebook, greater number of Facebook friends, and preference for features of Facebook that allow for active social participation, such as status updates and instant messaging.

Neuroticism generally implies anxiety and sensitivity to threat. Neurotic individuals often use Facebook to seek the attention and social support that may be missing from their lives offline. Consequently, neuroticism is positively associated with frequent social media usage, the use of Facebook for social purposes in addition to engagement in emotional disclosure on Facebook, including long status updates regarding personal matters such as romantic involvement or family life.

More open people tend to be creative, intellectual, and curious. Openness is positively associated with frequency of social media use and with using Facebook for finding and disseminating information. However, socialization is of much lower priority.

People who are high in agreeableness tend to be cooperative, helpful, and interactionally successful. Agreeableness positively correlated with posting on Facebook to communicate and connect with other people and negatively correlated with seeking attention or talking negatively of others.

Conscientiousness describes people who are organized, responsible, and hard-working. They tend to access Facebook less frequently than others. However, when it is used, conscientious individuals are diligent and discreet, having more Facebook friends and avoiding slandering people. They are less likely to post on Facebook to seek attention or acceptance from others.

People with low self-esteem are more likely to see advantage in self-disclosure on Facebook rather than in person, but because their status updates tend to express more negative and less positive affect, they tend to be perceived as less likeable. Additionally, anxiously-attached individuals who tend to have low self-esteem post more often about their romantic relationship to boost their self-worth and to deter others’ impressions that their relationship and personal life is bad. People exhibiting these qualities are likely to receive less likes or positive feedback on their updates due to often referencing a romantic partner.

Narcissistic individuals tend to be vain, and exhibitionistic. They seek attention and admiration by boasting about their accomplishments and take particular care of their physical appearance. They post with a much higher frequency than people exhibiting other identifying traits, often self-promoting content.

Hypotheses - Based on the five factor model in addition to two significant identifying characteristics, there were a total of 8 hypotheses, one for each trait, and one pertaining to  as follows. (1) Extraversion would be positively associated with updating about social activities, and that this association would be  by their use of Facebook for communicative purposes. (2) Neuroticism would be positively associated with updating about close relationships, and that these topics would be motivated by their use of Facebook for validation and self-expression. (3) Openness would be positively associated with updating about intellectual topics, and that this association would be mediated by the use of Facebook for sharing information. (4) The interpersonal focus of agreeable people and their use of Facebook for communication may lead to more frequent updates about their social activities and significant relationships. (5) conscientiousness would be positively associated with updating about inoffensive topics such as social activities and everyday life, which would be mediated by the lower tendency of using Facebook for validation. (6) Self-esteem would be negatively associated with updating about a romantic partner, and that this association would be mediated by the use of Facebook for validation. (7) Updates from people with lower self-esteem would receive less likes due to commonly expressing negative ideas. (8) Narcissism would positively associate with more frequently displaying their achievements and diet/exercise routine in status updates.


Data was collected from 555 Facebook users currently residing in the United States (59% female; mean age 31). 65% percent of participants were currently involved in a romantic relationship, and 34% had at least one child. 57% percent checked Facebook on a daily basis, and spent an average of 108 min (1 hour, 48 minutes) per day actively using it. 90% of participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program and paid $1.00 in compensation. The rest were recruited through internet forums for online psychology studies and received no compensation.

The 35-question personality profile measures extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness with 7 items each, on a scale of 1-5 (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

The 13-item version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI-13) is derived from the original NPI-40 and measures three critical components of narcissism, namely the need for leadership and authority, consistent exhibitionism, and exploitativeness. Options revealing the possession of these characteristics were provided, such that one choice represents greater narcissism and the other less. Higher scores indicate greater levels of narcissism.

The 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale measures self-esteem with items such as “I feel that I have a number of good qualities” with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 as “strongly agree”.

Participants reported their number of Facebook friends, how many days of the week they check Facebook (0–7 days), how much time they spend actively using it on days they check it and how frequently they update their status (1 = Never, 9 = 7–10 times a day). They then indicated how frequently they write about 20 different topics in their Facebook status updates. Responses were rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 5 (Very often). Participants also recorded the average number of likes/comments they received on their updates.

The independent variable was the characteristics exhibited by participants. The dependent variable was the content in their posts and purpose for Facebook usage. There were no determinable control groups for the experiment, but there were many experimental groups. Four motives for Facebook use were measured by adapting items from a variety of sources. Participants were given statements beginning with “I use Facebook to…” and rated their agreement on a scale of 1 to 7. Use of Facebook for validation was measured with seven items that implied attention-seeking (“I use Facebook to show off”) and need to feel accepted and included (“I use Facebook to feel loved”). Five items measured use of Facebook for self-expression (“I use Facebook to express my identity/opinions”). Three items measured use of Facebook to communicate (“I use Facebook to communicate with people I often see”) and eight items pertained use of Facebook to obtain information (“I use Facebook to stay informed”).

Results and Analysis

Hypothesis 1 was supported, as extraversion was positively correlated with frequent updates regarding social activities and everyday life as well as for active social engagement. Hypothesis 2 was only somewhat supported. Neurotic individuals did not often use Facebook for self-expression, but they did regularly use the service for validation and support they may not find offline. Hypothesis 3 was supported fully as openness was positively associated with updating about intellectual topics and using Facebook for informational purposes. Hypothesis 4 was completely unsupported, as agreeableness was not associated with updating more frequently about social activities, significant relationships or using Facebook to communicate. Contrary to Hypothesis 5, conscientiousness was not associated with updating about ‘‘safe’’ topics such as social activities and everyday life, it was instead associated with writing more frequent updates about one’s children. Furthermore, conscientiousness was not negatively associated with using Facebook for validation but was positively associated with using Facebook to share information and to communicate. As for Hypothesis 6, people who were lower in self-esteem more frequently updated about their current romantic partner, but were more likely to use Facebook for self-expression rather than for validation, against initial prediction. This was surprising, as past studies have shown that people with low self-esteem tend to be more chronically fearful of losing their romantic partner. In line with Hypothesis 7, narcissism was positively associated with updating about achievements and with using Facebook for validation. Also, the use of Facebook for validation and for communication predicted the frequency of updating about achievements over and above the norm. There was no support for Hypothesis 8. Narcissism rather than self-esteem was associated with receiving a greater number of likes and comments to one’s updates. These can be seen in Table 2 (below) where all of these mediations are displayed.

It was assessed whether the four topics common to the entire sample (social activities and everyday life, intellectual pursuits, achievements, and diet/exercise) predicted the number of likes and comments typically received to an update over and above the control variables and traits. Updating about social activities and everyday life was positively associated with the number of likes and comments received, as was achievements, but updating about intellectual topics was negatively associated (strangely).

This experiment had numerous weaknesses, namely the reliance on participants’ self-provided answers to surveys. Narcissists in particular may not accurately report the number of likes and comments they receive on their updates. Also, these results may not be true for every individual due to varying persona and image among others. Some take pride in low self-esteem, such as those engaged in goth culture, and some may regularly display their achievements due to an extraordinary goal they are striving for, rather than mere selfishness.

Future research could involve experimentation regarding the specific reasoning for feedback given to certain updates. For instance, while close friends may “like” a post of a narcissist, it is a possibility that they don’t actually appreciate such petty displays of pride. Mere acquaintances often unfriend or even block the perpetrator, annoyed by such actions.  The IV for this experiment would be the defining traits of the post or the user, and the DV would be the readers or viewers’ actual liking to the post, rather than just a measurement of digital responses. I would hypothesize that while narcissists receive a greater number of likes, they are not actual positive responses to self-promoting content. Also, while intellectual posts may not receive much feedback, they are likely more widely appreciated by others. The experimental groups would be Facebook users of different characteristics, and the control group  would be a generic social/personal user exhibiting none of the defining traits too much.

This experiment has a great level of real-word significance due to the widespread use of Facebook among individuals of all ages. It is important to understand the social context and implications certain types of exhibitionism can carry along.

Posted by Vinuoc Carlson

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