University News

Facebook's Dark Side Topic of Study by WIU Communication Professor

March 19, 2012

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MACOMB, IL - - When Darth Vader was introduced as the dark side of the Force in the first installment of the original trilogy, "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977), Christopher Carpenter, the 30-year old assistant professor of communication at Western Illinois University, was not yet born.

Now, Carpenter is getting worldwide news coverage for his study of the "dark side," but on the timely subject of Facebook.

Carpenter's study, "Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior," is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 52, issue 4 (March 2012), p. 482-486, as well as on numerous other websites.

Narcissism is defined in this study as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance," Carpenter said.

For the average narcissist, Facebook "offers a gateway for hundreds of shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication." More importantly, for this study, social networking in general allows the user a great deal of control over how he or she is presented to and perceived by peers and other users, he added.

The narcissistic personality inventory (NPI) survey sample included 292 individuals, which measured self-promoting Facebook behaviors, such as posting status updates, photos of oneself and updating profile information; and several anti-social behaviors, including seeking social support more than providing it, getting angry when others do not comment on status updates and retaliating against negative comments.

Carpenter's research methods class emailed people they knew and asked them to complete the survey. Approximately 75 percent of respondents were college students, he said.

He hypothesized the grandiose exhibitionism (GE) subscale of the NPI would predict the self-promoting behaviors. The entitlement/exploitativeness (EE) subscale was hypothesized to predict the anti-social behaviors. GE includes vanity, superiority, self-absorption and exhibitionistic tendencies. EE includes a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others, Carpenter explained.

Results showed grandiose exhibitionism correlated with self-promotion and entitlement/exploitativeness correlated with anti-social behaviors on Facebook. Self-esteem was unrelated to self-promotion behaviors and it was negatively associated with some anti-social behaviors (i.e. self-esteem was related to less of these anti-social behaviors).

"If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them. Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking.

"In general, the 'dark side' of Facebook requires more research in order to better understand Facebook's socially beneficial and harmful aspects in order to enhance the former and curtail the latter," added Carpenter, who joined the Western Illinois University communication department in Fall 2010.

Carpenter earned his Bachelor of Arts (2004) in psychology from North Central College, where he was the 2002 Pi Kappa Delta National Policy debate champion. He earned his Master of Arts (2006) in communication studies from Northern Illinois University and his Ph.D. (2010) in communication from Michigan State University.

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