LOOK AT ME, say our tweets, photos, tumbls, videos and blogposts. But is our online activity reputation-management, identity play or a reflection of a cultural trend towards an increase in self-reflective, digitally encouraged narcissism?

There’s a great overview of the research on generational shifts in narcissism called Reflecting on narcissism: are young people more self-obsessed than ever before? from Sadie F Dingfelder in the Monitor on Psychology (American Psychological Association publication), Feb 2011. Vol 42(2).

I have just a couple of notes based on interesting quotes:

Self-esteem is on the rise, with 80 percent of middle-school students scoring higher in self-esteem in 2006 than the average middle-school student in 1988, according to one study (in the Review of General Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 3).

This reminded me of some recent evidence that’s emerged about the positive effects on self-esteem from using Facebook, that said that viewing and/or updating one’s profile led to a more enhanced sense of self. I doubt this is Facebook-specificl Turkle’s identity laboratory work in the mid-1990s in text-based virtual world LambdaMOO pointed at this outcome as well, but never identified this specific psychological effect. Her more recent research (get Alone Together, her latest book, here) actually argues the opposite.

Dingfelder does concede that raise a possible relationship between the researchers’ observed differences in generational narcissism and the Internet:

The Internet, [San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, PhD] claims, encourages people to constantly promote themselves — and broadcast the minutiae of their lives — on blogs and through social media.

However, there doesn’t appear to be much evidence supporting this, or any studies that are being carried about on this topic. That’s my Big Question – one that’s not sufficiently answered in this review. Is whether the Web actually having an effect on the rise of narcissism, which I take to be part of the evidence for a Cult of Me?

There’s a report in the NYT from June 2010 about a paper presented at the Association for Psychological Science that makes a connection – based on no evidence – between an apparent rise in narcissism amongst a population and the increase in the use of the Internet.

That article points to an essay written in 2007 by Christine Rosen called, Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism from The New Atlantis, in which she describes the self-presentation we do online as motivated by the drive to connect to as many people as possible. This, she proposes, has transformed our self-perceptions.

However, Rosen’s piece is theoretical, articulating more questions than answering them.

If you know of any empirical research on this area, please do add it to the comments below.

Hat tip on the APA article that inspired this post goes to @vaughanbell.