If you’re guilty of ‘social zapping,’ you’re probably a narcissist

According to a new study, people who frequently cancel plans at the last minute tend to also exhibit Machiavellian and narcissistic tendencies. And if you know someone who does this, there is now even a proper name for it: social zapping.

The study, published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, found that people who deprioritize engagements previously made with others often rank in areas relating to self-importance on personality assessments. Impulsivity and timeliness of procrastination were additionally determined to be predictors.

The implied malevolence relates to a social zapper showing little regard for the long-term consequences of nearly standing up their friends on a quasi-regular basis.

“Social zapping is positively associated with maximizing tendencies and problematic social networks use. However, empirical investigations on which additional personality characteristics predict social-zapping behavior are yet missing,” the authors wrote in the new report.

“In this study, a sample of  190 adults performed a questionnaire-based survey assessing different personality facets and social zapping tendency. Measures included the Dark Triad – Dirty Dozen scale, Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, Maximization scale, Pure Procrastination Scale, Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) scale, and the Social Zapping Scale.”

The authors also assessed participants for impulsiveness, procrastination, maximizing tendencies, and FOMO (fear of missing out).

All of the traits above save FOMO were consistently linked to social zappers, with Machiavellianism standing out as the most impactful predictor.

In psychology, Machiavellianism describes a person who is so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to fulfill them.

Those who frequently cancel plans aren’t as a rule self-centered or short-sighted, but the correlation between social zapping and dark personality traits was strong enough to warrant further inspection.

Moreover, the fact that procrastination and attentional impulsivity were found to be predictors for the abrupt canceling of plans means social zappers are tempted by alternatives plans that they deem to be more appealing than the ones they committed to.

“Based on the results, social zappers can be characterized as individuals who tend to make self-serving and/or impulsive short-sighted decisions at the expense of others. Social zapping is a phenomenon of inherent self-interest, where individuals cancel appointments spontaneously (at the last minute) with others to pursue options they deem best for themselves,” the authors concluded.

Social zapping, or bailing culture, is reportedly on the rise among young Americans. The reasoning isn’t always preceded by narcissism, however.

“I think people find it much easier to cancel via text, Facebook, and WhatsApp,” Oxford University’s Social Psychology Professor Miles Hewstone explains. “You don’t actually have to call someone and admit you can’t/won’t come. Bailing shows a lack of empathy for the person whose party, dinner, or drinks you’re not bothering to attend.”

In any case, the authors of the new paper provide extra incentives to try and honor our arrangements with others, if only to avoid believing an impression of malice or hostility.

“As the concept of social zapping is a new one that has hardly been explored, Müller and team acknowledge that further research will be important to validate and extend their findings. The authors note that social zapping appears to be linked to behaviors that are implicated in negative online behavior (procrastination, the Dark personality traits, and impulsivity). In light of this, they suggest that future research should consider how social zapping relates to problematic online behavior,” psychology reporter, Beth Ellwood writes.