Is it narcissistic to have one’s own personal Web site?

My wife once made a comment about this Web site being "All about yourself." I was used to thinking of the site as being about my interests and my family, so her comment startled me. It never originally occurred to me that my site might be viewed as “all about me.” I started reflecting upon the content and my motivations for having such a site, and whether it might be considered narcissistic to have created and maintained a personal Web site? The comments that follow are not just my own "take" on the question, but also an analysis of the subject from various psycholgical studies about narcissism, social networking and motivations behind the growing numbers of Facebook pages and personal Web sites. I thought this was sort of a fascinating topic (especially for those of us with our own Web sites), so I thought I would share.

As it turns out, I don’t believe that  my wife has actually spent much time on my site, at all, else she would know that there are literally hundreds more photographs showing her,  my children,  extended family and vacation photos than there are of myself, or  pages about myself. Her comment inspired me, even so, to see what the field of psychology had to say about personal Web pages. Much of that literature is interwined with more encompassing studies about social networking, but as it turns out there is a fairly simple answer. The act of creating a personal Web page is not, in itself, narcissistic. Narcissism is a personality trait. It can, however, be a trait that is at least partially in the eye of the beholder. Just as if If you find me to be a boring person, this site is probably going to bore you. Perhaps less so, other people who share more in common with me. If you think I am conceited, you are almost certainly going to think that my site is narcissistic. From the psychologists' less subjective point of view, if a narcissist creates a personal Web site, then the pages will likely reflect that narcissism (i.e.- lots of photos of that person, many of the glamour shot type or scantily-clad photos of the author, and /or other photos posing with members of the opposite sex. That observation comes from the psychologists, not me). It is certainly true that a narcissist will be more drawn to self-promote, but the largest scientific study on this subject, thus far, doesn't not support a smaller study's conclusion that narcissists are more likely to have a personal Web site than non-narcissists. Narcissism could be one motive for creating a personal Web page, but none of the studies conclude that to be the most common motive. There are many possible motivations for creating such a site. Drawing a simple conclusion about another's persons' motivations is never really a very well-meaning action, anyway. My site contains hundreds of pages, but the overwhleming number of those have to do with a) travel, and b) the Marcotte families of the United States, Canada and France. To conclude that those two areas say something significant about me, and that I have used technolgy as a media for expression does not bother me in the least.

A 2012 study conducted at Harvard University (see source: Tamir & Mitchell in bibliography, below) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a fairly plausible motivation for personal Web sites. Their research, which included the use of MRI scans, found that people derive intrinsic value from communicating information about themselves. It seems that doing so, stimulates the brain in the "mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area," or in or as one would put it in the English vugate: it stimulates the same part of the brain and releases endorphins in much the same way as stimulated by eating and sex. It just makes us feel good. Well, that certainly explains the social networking phenomenom!

There are often professional motivations for a personal site, as well. According to a December 2007 survey by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organization, roughly half of U.S. hiring officials use the Internet in vetting job applications. So, a well-designed, creative, positive, informational site, which is useful to others can be a career-enhancing tool. On the flip-side, a personal page which does little more than show party pics or blog about politics, sex or religion, or that indeed comes across as largely-narcisstic could backfire.

I did a Google search to see what other people thought about personal Web sites being narcissistic, and here are a few of the better comments I found at a mini-forum at the professional networking site, LinkedIn:

-          Times are changing. While the notion of having your own website may seem narcissistic on the surface, it really is about using today’s tools to reach your target audience and communicate your personal brand. The digital world is providing numerous opportunities for each of us to become effective marketers.”

-          “I too would say no, but only if the subject matter is about an interest of yours that you think others might benefit from in some way.”

-          “An emphatic "No!" from me too. Having a personal website is the one thing you can have total control over your online identity or personal brand. Facebook and the like all have certain rules or lack complete ways to express yourself and portray yourself how you'd like to be portrayed. Plus they can arbitrarily change the rules when they see fit which requires you to always be on top of not only what you're doing but what they're doing as well.”

-          “A personal website let's one break out of the mold. This is especially useful if one is a designer, because their personal site can be a resume in and of itself. If your Facebook profile makes you look like a complete goof, it may be good to have an outlet that makes you look professional.

-          “My answer is "No". Personal website is a site where we could know the person's thought about some fact or idea. It is very useful and encouraging to me.  If there are no personal websites, the usefulness of the Internet becomes weaker than now, I believe.”

-          “Absolutely not. In fact, the day will come when having a personal website will be as normal as having a "paper" resume in hand. Helping others understand your strengths and what value you can provide to them and their organizations can be better communicated through a well thought-out website rather than a couple sheets of paper where you have crammed in ten years of lists and bullet-points highlighting this arcane term and that.”

-          “Yes it is narcissistic, but in a way that's necessary. I've already purchased my children's names for them for future use. Narcissism = necessary online presence.”

-          I think of it as part of your personalized stationary.”

-          "I work for a domain registrar, and a good majority of the domains we register are personal names. Our CEO has registered every member of his family!  A personal website can be narcissistic, but only if it focuses on "me, me, me" or the dreaded "what I ate for breakfast." If you own a website, but write smart, intelligent, relevant content, a personal website is an asset to your career.”

 

It may be true that personal Web sites do tend to be somewhat ego-centric, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Each of us, as a unique individual, has a voice, an opinion and various interests.  The Internet is an interactive online community, which allows for sharing of all sorts of information.  If no one other than the news media and corporate entities (whether commercial, educational, or not-for-profit) is deemed have content worth sharing, I believe that to be a very sad statement on the value of each of us as individuals with our unique points of view. It is almost certainly the case that those of us with personal Web sites mean to portray ourselves, our hobbies, our families, etc., in a positive light. Failure to do so would say volumes about one’s self-esteem.  Having positive self-esteem is not, however, the same as narcissism. I personally believe that having or not having a personal Web site has far more to do with extroversion vs. introversion, and with assertiveness and creativity, and technological know-how, than with self-promotion or narcissism. That, however, is probably just my opinion. A narcissist might see it as a fully self-manageable way to get exactly the kind of exposure she or he desires. I hope (and believe) that the content of my own web site is interesting to other people. Some of it is indeed self-promoting, as it does include a personal resume, a marketing page for my novel, and one for my sculpting. There's another for my hobbies, which I suppose could be a little narcissistic, since it is really just for my own amusement. A majority of my site, however, is for sharing a fairly extensive genealogy, travel photos, and published magazine and e-zine articles that I have written, which are no longer available elsewhere. Then, there is still that Harvard study about brain stimulation. I just enjoy it.

 

One thing that virtually all of the studies agree on is that narcissim is not an absolute (i.e. - it is not whether a person is or is not a narcissist. Narcissism exists on a continuum. We all have a degree of it, and it can range from a healthy amount that affects self-confidence, self-esteem, leadership ability, etc., at one end, to a destructive level that tends toward extreme vanity, eliteism, and abuse of others, at the other end. The extent to which a person exercises or "exorcises" narcissism will have a great deal to do with the content of his/her personal Web pages.

 

One professional psycholgical study (see below: Marcus, Bernd et al.) found that narcissists created personal web pages at the same rate as non-narcissists. Females in this study, however, who had created Web pages were found to be more narcissitic than females in a comparison group. This is a bit surprising, since according to the studies, females tend, on the whole, to be less susceptible to narcissim than males. Psychologist Frederick Stinson and his colleagues conducted face-to-face interviews with 34,653 adults and found that men are more narcissistic than women across the lifespan. Females tend to internalise the criticism they receive, and suffer more from low self-esteem, whereas males tend to cast out crticism and have historically been more encouraged by society to value a greter level of assertiveness. So, perhaps too, the perception of a personal Web site as narcissistic (or not) may also be affected by the gender of the viewer, the viewer's own personality, and their own level of self-esteem.

 

-Michael

There were 33 uses of personal pronouns, adjectives (I, me, my, myself) etc., in this document - not counting the direct quotes from other people. There were 38 uses of impersonal pronouns, adjectives (he, she his, her, themslves, one's, other people, etc.).

Sources:

"Personality in cyberspace: Personal web sites as media for personality expressions and impressions," by Marcus, Bernd; Machilek, Franz; Schütz, Astrid; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006.

How to Spot a Narcissist," by Barry Scott; Psychology Today, June 2011.

"Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Results From the Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions," by Frederick S. Stinson, Ph.D., Deborah A. Dawson, Ph.D., Rise B. Goldstein, Ph.D., M.P.H., S. Patricia Chou, Ph.D., Boji Huang, M.D., Ph.D., Sharon M. Smith, Ph.D., W. June Ruan, M.A., Attila J. Pulay, M.D., Tulshi D. Saha, Ph.D., Roger P. Pickering, M.S., and Bridget F. Grant, Ph.D., Ph.D.; J Clin Psychiatry, June 2008.

"Psychological and social influences on blog writing: An online survey of blog authors in Japan." Miura, A., & Yamashita, K., (2007) Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), article 15.

"Effects of narcissism, leisure boredom, and gratifications sought on user-generated content among net-generation users," Damon, Chi-Him Poona; Louis, Wing-Chi Leung (2011), 8th International Telecommunications Society (ITS) Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, Taiwan, 26 - 28 June, 2011: Convergence in the Digital Age.

"Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook," Soraya Mehdizadeh, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Volume: 13 Issue 4: August 16, 2010.

"Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 2012 (online) and May 7, 2102 (print), by Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell, Department of Psychology, Harvard University.