Narcissism and Social Media

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‘We Are Narcisses’: Narcissism,
Instagram, and Snapchat.
By: Randa Al Bayoumi
MIT 3000
Professor Robert Babe
Due Date: November 24, 2014


Content of Research Paper:
1. Introduction of Topic and Research Question
a. Theory
b. Theoretic Hypothesis
c. Research Hypothesis
2. Methodology
a. Determining the Universe
b. Sampling Frame
c. Content Categories
d. Unit(s) of Analysis
3. Method of Quantification
4. Analysis and Implications
5. Validity
6. Reliability and Replicability
7. Self-critique and Limitations
8. Conclusions
9. Work Cited
10. Index of Instagram and Snapchat Research

1. Introduction: Social-virtually Mediated Photography and the
Cultivation of Narcissism
With the emergence of social networking platforms that thrive on photographic
content in 2010, virtual narcissism took a different and more personal slant. Oversharing
of a user’s personal life evolved from communicating textual statuses on Facebook and
tweets on Twitter to the digital photo galleries on Instagram and the evanescent snapshots
on Snapchat. While some Instagram and Snapchat users explain their habit of selfdocumentation as the greatest method which “[allows] viewers to connect [with them] on


a personal level” (Miller, 2013), other users, though they may deny it, do so for vain
reasons of self-validation and conceit. The way in which the latter type of user can be
easily identified is by recognizing whether the amount of pictures that revolves around
themselves (whether a ‘selfie’ or display of material self-indulgences) outnumber other
types of pictures or densely populate the user’s account.

Research Question
a. Theory: Narcissism has become prevalent in “online mobile photosharing, video-sharing and social networking service” (Wikipedia, 2011) applications
such as Instagram and Snapchat since their emergence in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
b. Theoretic Hypothesis: Narcissistic users prefer to share their content on
Instagram over Snapchat for the following reasons:
1. Instagram pictures can permanently remain on a user’s account while
Snapchat ‘stories’ can only last for a maximum of 24 hours
2. It is more likely that narcissism would be fed by ‘likes’ and ‘comments’
that can be left on Instagram pictures rather than a temporary photographic
or textual responses (a maximum of 10 seconds for either means to remain
with the receiver) that is received on Snapchat.
Therefore, the assumption is that narcissism is more rampant on Instagram than on
c. Research Hypothesis: A sample of 50 Instagram accounts owned by millennial
users (those born between the years 1981-1996) is analyzed for three different types of
content: Selfie, Self-indulgent, and ‘Other’ pictures. The definition of these categories
will be provided in section 2, subsection d under Units of Analysis. After a series of


carefully designed quantification methods, the Instagram statistics will be compared to
the statistics of a sample of 45 Snapchat stories analyzed across the time span 24 hours.
Each Snapchat account will be analyzed for three different types of content in their
stories: Selfie, Self-indulgent, and ‘Other’ videos or snapshots. The definition of these
categories will also be provided in section 2, subsection d under Units of Analysis. The
aim of the study is to measure the levels of narcissism on each of the two social media
platforms and determine whether narcissism thrives on one platform more than the other.

2. Methodology
a. Determining the Universe: This quantitative content analysis aims to gauge the
levels of narcissism amongst the millennial demographic on two different social
networking platforms. Therefore, I have personally sampled and analyzed 26 out of a
total of 50 Instagram accounts that belonged to millennial users which I ‘follow’ on
Instagram (the remaining 24 accounts were analyzed by 12 different coders, all of
whom have never taken the MIT 3000 course so as to abide by the Lorr and McNair
principle of coding – “Interrater agreement for a new set of judges given a reasonable
but practical amount of training…would represent a more realistic index of
reliability” (Wimmer & Dominick, 148)).
As for the Universe determined for Snapchat, I sampled a total of 10
Snapchat stories from my Snapchat contact list in a single day (24 hours), and asked
the same 12 coders to sample 5 Snapchat stories each from their Snapchat contact list
on the same day as well, which resulted in a total of 45 Snapchat accounts that were
analyzed that day.


b. Sampling Frame: Along with the 24 Instagram accounts that I analyzed, each of the
12 coders that I recruited has examined 2 accounts that they ‘follow’ on Instagram.
The purpose of recruiting these coders is to reduce the level of bias that may arise
from taking a sample of Instagram accounts that I only follow. The result of this
method of sampling allows me to have statistics of Instagram accounts that belong to
millennials who reside in 5 different continents: North America, Europe, Asia,
Africa, and Australia. This allows for a more diverse sample frame and thereby a
more reliable content analysis.
The Snapchat story sampling took place on Friday the 14th of October
2014. The reason there is a set time frame for the study of the Snapchat Universe was
because Snapchat stories remain on a person’s Snapchat account for only 24 hours
before they disappear permanently. The 12 coders were chosen to analyze 35 of 45
Snapchat account stories for the same reason they were recruited for the Instagram
account sampling; to maintain a diverse sampling frame.
On both of the media platforms, users between the ages of 18 to 33 owned
all the accounts that were sampled and analyzed for this study. A list of the account
owners from each social networking platform has been compiled in the index section
of this paper.
c. Content Categories: Due to the nature of this quantitative content analysis, I have
constructed an a priori coding system which “establishes the categories before the
data are collected” (Wimmer & Dominick, 146). I already knew exactly what type of
content I was looking for in order to proceed with the gauging of narcissism on


Instagram and Snapchat, and constructed three specialized categories in which to
place the sampled accounts’ contents:
i. The “Selfie” Category: A Selfie, as defined by the online Oxford English
Dictionary, is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken
with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media”. A selfie may
sometimes feature other people along with the person taking the picture.
However, for the purpose of this study, I have slightly altered what qualifies
as a ‘selfie’; the only pictures and snapshots that are eligible for this category
are the ones that feature only the account owner by him or herself. No other
human subjects are to exist in the picture or snapshot. The account owner or
someone else can take the picture as long as the account owner is the only
person in the picture. The reason I have chosen to refine this category is for
the purpose of targeting narcissistic content. If a picture only features the
account owner, then it is safer to assume that he or she wants the focus of the
picture to be directed only on him or her and not anybody else.
ii. The “Self-Indulgence” Category: This category is designated for pictures
and snapshots (and short video clips in the case of Snapchat) that feature and
focus on one or more of the following things: food, cars, branded materials
(clothing, perfumes, accessories, food boxes, gifts, etc.), money, expensive
electronic devices, clothes, ‘shopping haul’ pictures, plane tickets, shoes, any
form of tobacco smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, etc.), recreational
drugs, and alcoholic beverages. The reason this category is created for this
study is to provide content that signifies materialism, which is a known
symptom of narcissism. As stated in an article featured on US News Health,


“physical vanity is a correlate of narcissism, but there are plenty of other
[aspects of narcissism], including materialism” (Lyon, 2009).
iii. The “Other” Category: Pictures that do not fall in the formerly defined
categories belong to this category. This is to make sure that all pictures,
snapshots, and videos that do not contain any signification of narcissism
and/or materialism still have someway to be quantified so as to be measured
against narcissistic and/or materialistic content.
These definitions were sent to all the 12 coders so as to maintain
intercoder reliability (Wimmer & Dominick, 146).
d. Units of Analysis: Table 2.1 illustrates the units of analysis used for each

Content which qualifies for the category

Only pictures and snapshots that feature only the account owner
by him or herself. No other human subjects are to exist in the

picture or snapshot. Account owner or someone else can take the
picture as long as the account owner is the only person in the
Pictures and snapshots (and short video clips in the case of
Snapchat) that feature and focus on one or more of the following
things: food, cars, branded materials (clothing, perfumes,


accessories, food boxes, gifts, etc.), money, expensive electronic
devices, clothes, ‘shopping haul’ pictures, plane tickets, shoes, any
form of tobacco smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, etc.),


recreational drugs, and alcoholic beverages.

Remaining pictures, snapshots, and audiovisuals that do not

contain any signification of narcissism and/or materialism

Table 2.1

3. Method of Quantification
The way in which the two classes of content, Instagram and Snapchat, are
compared and contrasted is a very complex process because of the difference in the way
these two applications operate. I first quantified and compiled the photographic and
audiovisual content from both applications. I then calculated the percentage of content
that comprised of selfies, self-indulgences, and both for each account on Instagram and
Snapchat. Next, I gauge the levels of narcissism, materialism, and both narcissism and
materialism cumulatively for the average of each of the three categories respectively on
both platforms against a customized scale (details on the scale will be given in table 3.1).
Finally, I compare the statistics on the scales between Instagram and Snapchat’s scales
and conclude with a statement about which of the social networking platforms harbor
more narcissism, materialism, or both.
Scale System:
The scales for both Instagram and Snapchat will go in by quartiles from 0% until
100%, but each quartile will be labeled differently to keep the results valid for the
following reason:
 Because the content that was obtained from Instagram is a collection of
pictures that were posted from the time the Instagram users created their
accounts until the last time they posted their latest picture/audiovisual, it is


unfair to gauge it against an identical scale with a collection of data from
Snapchat which was collected on one day only and existed for 24 hours;
this results in the data selected for Instagram to be less intensely
narcissistic and/or materialistic as opposed to Snapchat’s compiled data
due to its longitudinally dispersed content.
After recognizing the aforementioned unfairness in the two groups of data, I have
constructed two separate sets of scales for each social networking platform to
universalize the scales and the results that can be concluded after applying the data to the
scales. This is done to maintain construct validity, which “involves relating a measuring
instrument to some overall theoretic framework to ensure that the measurement is
logically related to other concepts in the framework” (Wimmer & Dominick, 181). Label
interpretations for the scales are illustrated in table 3.1.
Quartiles of Scales

Interpretation for
Selfies: Not narcissistic at
all (0%<x<25% = Slightly
Self-Indulgences: Not
materialistic at all
(0%<x<25% = Slightly

Interpretation for
Selfies: Not narcissistic at
Self-Indulgences: Not
materialistic at all


Selfies: Moderately
Moderately materialistic

Selfies: Slightly narcissistic
Self-Indulgences: Slightly


Selfies: Overly narcissistic
Self-Indulgences: Overly

Selfies: Moderately
Moderately materialistic


Selfies: Very narcissistic
Self-Indulgences: Very

Selfies: Overly narcissistic
Self-Indulgences: Overly





Table 3.1

Snapchat Average




Instagram Average



Average of Content in
Instagram vs. Snapchat


chart 3.2

chart 3.3

Gauged Averages: Snapchat vs. Instagram

Narcissism Gauge: Instagram


Narcissism Gauge: Snapchat



Materialism Gauge: Snapchat


Materialism Gauge: Instagram



Narcissism and Materialism Gauge: Snapchat



Narcissism and Materialism Gauge: Instagram




4. Analysis and Implications
Narcissism & Materialism
(Overall Narcissism)
Table 4.1

Instagram gauge
Snapchat gauge
Moderately narcissistic
Slightly narcissistic
Slightly materialistic
Slightly materialistic
Moderate overall narcissism Moderate overall narcissism

By thoroughly analyzing and comparing the gauged categories, one can
conclude that Instagram is indeed the preferred social networking platform that the
millennial demographic tend to use to share their narcissistic and materialistic content.
Observing the data in table 4.1, which comprises of 2 out of 3 moderate sets of categories
for Instagram and 1 out of 3 moderate set for Snapchat, derives this conclusion. This
supports Dr. Vaknin’s theory that “the narcissist always prefers show-off to substance”
(Vaknin, 2013); the implication is that the solidity of content in an Instagram user’s
account allows for a better chance at showing off their luxuries and outer physical
appearance than the evanescent content of Snapchat.

5. Validity
As per the definition in the Wimmer and Dominick reading, validity is “the
degree to which an instrument actually measures what it sets out to measure”
(Wimmer & Dominick, 155). Assuming the instrument in question in this content
analysis is the gauging scale, I can objectively say that the instrument does a good job
at measuring the levels of narcissism and materialism under the time constraints given
to produce this analysis, which gives it fairly good face validity. However, if the study
had been more elaborate and given the luxury of ample time, the scale would be


deemed somewhat invalid. That is because the way in which the scale was sectioned
(in quadrants) leaves too much space for inaccuracy, thereby rendering the condensed
result vague.

6. Reliability and Replicability
Reliability of a quantitative content analysis is determined “when repeated
measurements of the same material results in similar decisions or conclusions”
(Wimmer & Dominick, 150). I can strongly affirm that the content analysis
carried out on this research topic is very reliable and easily replicable due to the
clear, elaborate, and explicit descriptions given to each of the constructed
categories. The intricately detailed definitions of these categories leaves no room
for misinterpretation; what is intended to be extracted from a pool of content on
either social networking platform would be easily recognized by any coder
wishing to participate in this analysis. This is known as Intercoder reliability,
which Wimmer and Dominick define as the “level of agreement among
independent coders who code the same content using the same coding instrument
[i.e. the category definitions]” (Wimmer & Dominick, 151).

7. Self-critique and Limitations
As is well known for any piece of work, there is always room for
improvement. My self-critique mainly stems from the limitations of this study.
Below is a table that rationalizes and relates my self-critique to the limitations of
this content analysis.



The sampling frame for Instagram was too

Unfortunately, 50 Instagram accounts were

The sampling frame for Snapchat was too
small and should have stretched across a
few days, not just one day.

The scales that were used to gauge the
levels of narcissism and materialism were
too vague.

all I could garner for the study due to the
time constraint that was set on the
producing of this content analysis.
The Snapchat users who shared their
‘stories’ on the day the data was obtained
were not likely to share another story every
single day for an allotted period of time.
Garnering Snapchat content on a daily
basis for an allotted amount of days was
therefore an undependable method of
garnering data, because it would have
produced a very inconsistent compilation
of data. This would render the data
unreliable and not fit for this content
Because it is not expected of me “to have a
“scientific sample” or to apply statistical
tests” for this quantitative content analysis,
I resorted to using minimalistic quartile
scales to gauge the levels of narcissism and
materialism on the social networking
platforms. Under the time constraints, this
made it easier for me to focus on the
analytical aspect of the study rather than
the statistical aspect, even though the data
may be slightly skewed or vague due to
numerical simplicity.

8. Conclusion
Ultimately, this quantitative analysis is helpful in its ability to determine and
predict the better social networking platform for further studies on narcissism. It may
perhaps be a somewhat vague analysis in its nature, but it provides readers with
ample information to recognize which of the platforms holds a greater number of
narcissistic users and the evidence that comes with that prediction.
Furthermore, concluding that Instagram is indeed the more prone to holding
narcissistic content than Snapchat explains the existence of a plethora of articles,
blogs, and reviews about the infamous “Rich Kids of Instagram” Instagram account


and not too many media outlets covering anything that goes on in the Snapchat realm.
Snapchat is regarded as a more private type of social networking – almost on par with
instant messaging – whereas Instagram could be seen as a virtual personal art gallery
on display for anyone with an Instagram account (and sometimes even for people
without Instagram accounts if the pictures were shared from Instagram to any other
social networking platform) to behold.


9. Work Cited
Wimmer, Roger, and Joseph Dominick. "Elements of Research." Mass Media
Research: An Introduction. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2009.
163-183. Print.
Wimmer, Roger, and Joseph Dominick. "Content Analysis." Mass Media Research:
An Introduction. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2009. 135-160.
Miller, Casey. "Selfie Culture." The Huffington Post 5 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Kunz, Marnie. "Artists Explore Selfie Culture of Narcissism." PSFK. 8 Oct. 2014.
Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <>.
Gachman, Dina. "Rich Kids of Instagram and Twenty-First Century Blues." The
Huffington Post 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
"Narcissistic Personality Disorder." Mayo Clinic. 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Lyon, Lindsay. "7 Myths About Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality
Disorder." U.S. News & World Report: Health 21 Apr. 2009. Web. 19 Nov.
2014. <>.
Vaknin, Sam. "Telling the Narcissists Apart." 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.



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