The Trouble with "Main Character Syndrome"
5 min read
fairly difficult
What is main character syndrome, and is it a new concept or something old repackaged for the digital age?
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Every few months, there appears a new problem or syndrome allegedly arising from social media usage. This may either say something about the dangers of the technology, our fears of the new, or both. The latest of these to emerge is called "main character syndrome." Currently, main character syndrome is a vague term, which has more media, and social media, usage than scientific. The term refers to a wide range of behaviours and thoughts, but, at root, it is when somebody presents, or imagines, themself as the lead in a sort of fictional version of their life (usually their own, although sometimes, disturbingly, somebody else's), and presents that "life" through social media.

We should be clear that main character syndrome is not the same as a self-presentation strategy. Here, a person focuses on one or more aspects of themself that they hope fits the situation, often to their own advantage. Clearly, almost everybody presents different aspects of themselves in different situations and contexts. Adopting different behaviours from our repertoires, in different contexts, in order to highlight aspects of our own personality, is entirely acceptable. In fact, this may make social interactions easier and safer. In contrast, those with main character syndrome seem to want to be somebody else entirely. So, while almost everybody will self-present, to some extent, not everybody has main character syndrome.

Moreover, highlighting particular aspects of a personality does not have the same function as main character syndrome—that is to say, main character syndrome is not done for the same reasons as self-presentational alterations. Perhaps an interesting parallel to main character syndrome to think about, and that illustrates this difference, is its similarities with Munchausen syndrome. Although Munchausen syndrome is purely about faking illness, it is a way to deal with emotional difficulties—self-presentation strategies are not. Main character…
Phil Reed D.Phil.
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