More than 200,000 photographs are uploaded to Facebook every minute. Many of these photographs are selfies: snapshots we capture of ourselves.
Why do we take so many selfies and why do we upload our selfies to online social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat? To find out, psychologists from Germany and Poland tested the personalities of prolific selfie sharers.
In their first experiment, the psychologists had 748 men and women count the number of selfies they had posted on social media in the last month. The volunteers also completed three personality questionnaires: the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Extraversion scale of the NEO-Five Factor Inventory, and the Murray Social Exhibitionism Index.
The volunteers reported posting up to 350 ‘own’ selfies featuring only themselves, up to 100 selfies with a relationship partner (sometimes called ‘relfies’), and up to 200 group selfies with friends.
Women posted significantly more own selfies and group selfies than men: female volunteers uploaded an average of 6.7 own selfies per month, while men posted only 3.3. The sex difference was greater for group shots, with women posting an average of 6.1 group selfies per month, and men posting only 2.6. There was no difference in the rate of relfie posting among women (1.2pm) and men (1.72pm).
Further analyses revealed that men and women who scored high on extraversion and social exhibitionism posted more selfies. But there was no relationship between selfie-posting and self-esteem. Men and women who have a huge ego or crippling self-doubt are no more or less likely to share heaps of selfies.
But how do we know that the volunteers were telling the truth about the number of selfies they posted? Perhaps exhibitionists are prone to underestimate their social media presence, while introverts exaggerate how often they update their profile pics. In a second study, the psychologists had research students snoop on their friends’ Facebook pages (with their consent, of course) to ensure an accurate selfie tally.
The results of this second study were identical to the first, except that now it emerged that there was a link between self-esteem and selfie posting, at least among men. Men who thought highly of themselves tended to post more own selfies, although there was no relationship between self-esteem and the frequency of posting relfies or group selfies.
Why did the researchers find that male self-esteem and selfie posting were unrelated in one study but positively related in the other? They say that “one explanation of the observed differences is that we measured selfie-related activity in a wide range of social media sites in Study 1, and only on Facebook in Study 2”. Perhaps Facebook is uniquely attractive to self-absorbed men as a platform for sharing selfies.
“On the one hand, people with high, stable self-esteem might be eager to share their photos because they are not susceptible to criticism. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem might be even more willing to engage in online self-promotion in order to raise their self-esteem”.
We also don’t know for sure whether men’s high self-esteem drives them to post more selfies, or if posting selfies — and seeing them ‘liked’ by friends — is what boosts a man’s ego.
Sorokowska, A., Oleszkiewicz, A., Frackowiak, T., Pisanski, K., Chmiel, A., & Sorokowski, P. (2016). Selfies and personality: Who posts self-portrait photographs? Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 119–123.