Study: Social Media Creates Self-Promotion ‘Breeding Ground’ for ‘Grandiose’ Narcissists

John Egan
4 min readApr 27, 2017

Tweet this, President Trump: A new study establishes a connection between social media activity and a high-octane brand of narcissism.

In the study, researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories and the University of Würzburg, both in Germany, found a “weak to moderate link” between “grandiose” narcissism and activity on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. The study was published in the Journal of Personality.

For their study, the researchers compiled a meta-analysis summarizing the results of 57 studies with more than 25,000 participants. The researchers, Markus Appel and Timo Gnambs, concluded that “grandiose” narcissists show up more frequently on social media networks than “vulnerable” narcissists do.

The Art of Self-Promotion

Generally speaking, social media networks give narcissists “easy access to a large audience and allows them to selectively post information for the purpose of self-promotion,” according to a news release about the narcissism study. “Moreover, they can meticulously cultivate their image. Therefore, researchers have suspected social networking sites to be an ideal breeding ground for narcissists from early on.”

As explained by The Telegraph of London, grandiose narcissists “pursue attention and power,” sometimes as politicians, celebrities or cultural leaders.

Meanwhile, vulnerable narcissists “can be quiet and reserved,” The Telegraph says. “They have a strong sense of entitlement, but are easily threatened or slighted.”

Who fits the description of a social-media-obsessed grandiose narcissist? TV-personality-turned-politician Donald Trump, whose preferred communication avenue is Twitter and who’s been deemed a “world-class narcissist.”

According to Psychology Today, “grandiose narcissists are more likely to attain leadership positions, they have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.”

Citing a study of 42 U.S. presidents, Psychology Today says grandiose narcissists of the White House variety are more likely to win the popular vote and to push important legislation. Presidents plagued by grandiose narcissism also are more prone to unethical behavior and more likely to be impeached, the study shows.

Presidents ranking highest on the study’s scale of grandiose narcissism are Lyndon Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Although the presidential study was done before the 2016 election, it’s hard to dismiss the parallels between Trump the grandiose narcissist and Trump the president.

In an article published in January by the journal Critical Issues in Media Communication, Brian Ott, chair of communication studies at Texas Tech University, maintains that the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy — known as the “Dark Triad” — are tied to Twitter usage. The title of the article is “The age of Twitter: Donald J. Trump and the politics of debasement.”

“Since the messages on Twitter are neither complex nor considered, heavy Twitter users are not motivated by the fact that they have something significant to say. They rarely do,” Ott writes. “What tends to motivate them is self-interest and self-promotion.”

Frankly, I can think of no better word than ‘contagion’ to describe the toxic effect that Twitter, as a mode of communication, and Trump, as a model of that mode, have had on public discourse.
— Communications professor Brian Ott

Ott theorizes that the Age of Twitter — or, more broadly, the Age of Social Media — “virtually guaranteed the rise of Trump,” with his tweets being marked by simplicity, impulsiveness and incivility.

“Frankly, I can think of no better word than ‘contagion’ to describe the toxic effect that Twitter, as a mode of communication, and Trump, as a model of that mode, have had on public discourse,” Ott writes. “Trump’s simple, impulsive, and uncivil Tweets do more than merely reflect sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia; they spread those ideologies like a social cancer.”

John Egan, a former newspaper editor and reporter, is editor in chief at Austin, Texas-based startup LawnStarter, whose platform connects homeowners with lawn care professionals.



John Egan

John Egan, content marketing professional. Austinite, professional communicator, world traveler, lover of laughter, lover of words. Opinions are my own.