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It takes a lot to shock readers nowadays, but you might want to hold onto your given screen before you read this one: there’s a fair chance the people you see posting Facebook statuses about their personal fitness are narcissists—and there’s empirical data to back it up.
Conducted by psychologists at Brunel University London in 2015, the study in question surveyed 555 Facebook users to measure their personality traits and what they were most likely to post about on the site. Among other somewhat unsurprising results, the findings showed that narcissists “wrote more status updates about their diet and exercise routine, suggesting that they use Facebook to broadcast the effort they put into their physical appearance.”
This isn’t exactly breaking news—after all, we can all think of at least one person polluting our feed with posts about their morning kale smoothie, post-work cardio crunch, or being a member of #fitfam. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left wondering why these braggarts can’t eat right and work out in privacy without broadcasting the sweaty play-by-play on social media.
“Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that their Facebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays,” said Brunel’s Dr. Tara Marshall in the study’s press release.
However, what we understand about narcissism suggests that people posting about fitness routines and other various accomplishments and milestones need the reward of likes and comments not only as validation, but to feel the positive effect of social inclusion—the exact type of environment sites like Facebook were created to achieve.
Fitness and narcissism have a close relationship. It takes a certain amount of love for oneself to put time and effort into one’s body, regardless of age or experience level. There’s also no doubting that a healthy amount of confidence is advantageous, regardless of the situation. The question then becomes: at what level does self love become detrimental?
Unhealthy levels of narcissism exist in about one percent of the world population, and can be diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Aside from causing emotional distress to those around them, a 2012 study revealed that men with unhealthy narcissism were two-and-a-half times more likely to have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone generally used to measure how prepared a given body is to respond to a threat. Higher levels of cortisol equal higher levels of stress, which can take on multiple deadly forms.
As much as it would please me to write that oversharing on Facebook is synonymous with certain personality disorders, it isn’t so black and white. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is only diagnosed after rigorous inquiry by a trained healthcare professional, not from analyzing status updates. There are a number of levels between appropriate confidence in one’s own abilities and existence and detrimental megalomania, and this is all written by a person who used to regularly upload running distances and times on his Facebook page. But if you’ve ever wondered whether you might actually be a narcissist, think twice before posting that gym mirror selfie.