Tweets Are More Likely to Be Egocentric If Sent From a Smartphone

Twitter users have previously been deemed to be more narcissistic than those on Facebook, and now a new study claims that you're much more likely to tweet about yourself if you send messages from your smartphone, rather than logging in via your computer.

The study, recently published in the International Communication Association's Journal of Communication, collected more than 235 million tweets during the summer of 2013 for analysis. The researchers found that tweets from mobile devices—such as smartphones and tablets—were both more egocentric and more negative than those sent from web-based platforms, such as PCs and laptops.

Dhiraj Murthy, a reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and the study's lead author, says the results reflect the instantaneous and immediate nature of smartphone use. "It really matters whether you're on a phone or whether you're in front of your computer," says Murthy, who authored a book about the microblogging site titled Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age. "If people are on their phone, they tend to be thinking about 'me me me,' more than maybe if they're at their desktop computers, [where] they're more reflective when they're reading a news article and tweeting it out."

Twitter has some 316 million active users sending 500 million tweets per day. According to Twitter itself, 80 percent of active tweeters use mobile devices. Tech news site VentureBeat reported that 655 million of Facebook's 1.49 billion monthly active users—or 44 percent of the total—only access the social network via a mobile device, never logging in via desktop.

The study also found that egocentric tweets tended to spike in the evenings compared to the rest of the day. "When we are at work, school, or university, our egocentricity tends to be tempered and this could be because we are more focused on activities that involve others," says Murthy. "In the evening, we tend to have a more egocentric presentation of self."

The study was limited to English language tweets, most of which were collected from the U.S. and Canada. To test the egocentricity of tweets, the researchers used a standardized list of words—including as 'I,' 'my,' and 'self,' as well as 'they,' 'their' and 'other'—and measured the frequency of such words in the collected tweets. They used a similar list of words to assess the relative positivity or negativity of tweets.

Tweets were also analyzed to see whether they employed more feminine language if sent from mobile or non-mobile devices. They found that tweets sent from both mobile and web-based platforms were more likely to use masculine language—such as the words 'competitive' and 'aggressive'—than feminine terms, which included 'gentle' and 'tender.'

Murthy says that the increasing switch towards using mobile devices for social media is having a profound effect on how we communicate. Having a smartphone to hand enables us to react immediately—and often negatively—to breaking news. "You always have your phone, whether you're at work or anywhere...If you're in the moment, one of the things I hypothesized is that could lead to negative commenting," he says.