Selfie- edit­ing has been linked with nar­cis­sism

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How­ever, these ar­eas were only no­tice­ably ac­tive when sub­jects tried to make them­selves look bad – that is when they were choos­ing be­hav­iours to make peo­ple dis­like them. If they were choos­ing be­hav­iours that made them look good, there was no de­tectable dif­fer­ence to nor­mal brain ac­tiv­ity. Cou­pled with the fact that sub­jects were much faster at pro­cess­ing be­hav­iours that made them look good as op­posed to bad, the con­clu­sion was that pre­sent­ing a pos­i­tive im­age of our­selves to oth­ers is what the brain is do­ing all the time! It’s the brain’s de­fault state.

Granted, it was a small and lim­ited study, but it’s an in­ter­est­ing out­come nonethe­less. And if we’re con­stantly fo­cused on pre­sent­ing a pos­i­tive im­age of our­selves, it’s no won­der so­cial net­works are so pop­u­lar, as they of­fer a much greater sense of con­trol of how we come across.

But this con­trol is a dou­ble- edged sword. Even if you’re just sit­ting with friends, the ten­dency to check your phone rather than talk can be over­whelm­ing. The brain is usu­ally averse to risk, pre­fer­ring pre­dictable op­tions over less cer­tain ones, and the cool, calm in­ter­face on the screen is of­ten sub­con­sciously more re­as­sur­ing than the chaotic con­ver­sa­tion go­ing on around you. The peo­ple you’re with may con­sider this be­hav­iour antisocial. And rightly so.

More wor­ry­ingly, a 2015 sur­vey of men aged 18- 40 by Jesse Fox and Mar­garet Rooney in the jour­nal

Per­son­al­ity And In­di­vid­ual Dif­fer­ences re­vealed that the amount of time spent on so­cial net­work­ing sites, post­ing self­ies and, re­veal­ingly, edit­ing self­ies to make them look bet­ter, was cor­re­lated with traits like nar­cis­sism and psy­chopa­thy. This isn’t to say so­cial net­works cause these things, but they of­fer an out­let, a way for them to be ex­pressed free of con­se­quence, where they may other­wise be crit­i­cised or chal­lenged, thus en­sur­ing more so­cially ac­cept­able be­hav­iours.

An­other in­trigu­ing find­ing, from a 2015 study led by Prof Joy Peluchette at Lin­den­wood Univer­sity, was that cer­tain types of be­hav­iour on so­cial net­works – namely ex­tro­ver­sion and ‘open­ness’ – ac­tu­ally in­crease the odds of be­ing a vic­tim of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. It may sound coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but it makes a cer­tain amount of sense. A per­son may typ­i­cally keep their more flam­boy­ant or ex­pres­sive na­tures sup­pressed, be­cause so­cial norms de­ter such things. Sub­tle signs of dis­com­fort in those around you, awk­ward body lan­guage and re­sponses, muted at­mos­pheres… these all act to keep gre­gar­i­ous or overly per­sonal ten­den­cies in check, to some ex­tent.

How­ever, such cues aren’t present on­line, so you can be as overly ex­pres­sive or per­sonal as you like on there. But other peo­ple may find this un­set­tling or off-putting, or could see it as cyn­i­cal at­ten­tion­seek­ing. Either way, they re­act ag­gres­sively, and at­tack the per­son. But so­cial net­works also pro­tect the at­tacker from the con­se­quences of their ac­tions, in­tro­duc­ing a dis­tance and de­gree of anonymity be­tween them­selves and their vic­tim, shield­ing them from the im­me­di­ate ef­fects, but sup­ply­ing the same ‘rush’ of hav­ing low­ered some­one’s sta­tus and boosted their own. So so­cial net­works again be­come a way to fa­cil­i­tate and per­pet­u­ate antisocial ac­tions.

So­cial net­works also give us the abil­ity to pick and choose what we see and hear from oth­ers, mean­ing we can end up in the oft- cited ‘echo cham­ber’. So­cial net­works make it much eas­ier to form groups, and con­stantly re­main part of them. This can give us a more ‘ex­treme’ lean­ings, mak­ing more in­tol­er­ant of con­trast­ing views as we grow un­used to en­coun­ter­ing them. What should be a ca­sual meet-up in a pub can eas­ily be­come a blis­ter­ing row about a foot­ball team. Antisocial be­hav­iour, caused by so­cial net­works.

It’s not all doom and gloom. More ner­vous or so­cially awk­ward peo­ple can be lib­er­ated by the con­trolled and or­gan­ised com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fered by so­cial net­works, and great friend­ships and re­la­tion­ships can form across the world now that would never have been able to ex­ist be­fore. But the truth is, for all that they may some­times not work that well, the hu­man brain has evolved a va­ri­ety of sys­tems to make sure so­cial in­ter­ac­tion hap­pens as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble. So­cial net­works, though, throw many span­ners in the works here, caus­ing over­all dis­rup­tion, which can some­times mean they end up achiev­ing the op­po­site of what they’re built for, and mak­ing peo­ple antisocial.

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Spend­ing time so­cial­is­ing with peo­ple can be hard work for the brain

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