On a recent trip to Stonehenge, I was surprised when the visitors took my attention away from the monument in an unexpected way. Here we were, beside an ancient monument, one of the grand mysteries of the world, and the visitors seemed less interested in the monument than they were in themselves.
Me and My Stonehenge, but Mostly ME
I stared for a time at a young woman dressed in a miniskirt and black hose making provocative facial expressions as she shot a picture of herself sitting in the grass with the giant monument as her decorative backdrop. In another area of the field, a happy blonde leaped in circles as two young men shot unending videos of her prancing merrily in front of Stonehenge. In writing this blog entry, I wondered if Stonehenge could talk, what secrets would be revealed about the daily herd of self-documentarians and other smartphone photographers prancing before her.
Aside from the stones’ perspective on the changing mores of people, I wondered what our interest in selfies or other images of ourselves say about us and whether there was any psychological research on the subject. Turns out some researchers in the UK (do they have any Stonehenge selfies?) studied how frequencies of two types of self-disclosure—selfies and status updates—correlates with the quality of our relationships.
Too Much Me Scares You
David Houghton and his colleagues* found that posting more selfies on Facebook was associated with lower relationship quality, defined as less intimate ties with friends. They discovered that too many status updates was related to lower relationship quality as well.
3 is the Magic Number...of Doom!
Presumably we all go on Facebook to see and read what our friends are doing, so why would more information be bad? These data don’t really speak to the why question. But I bet we can all think of some reasons this might be so. For instance, too many selfies may send the message that the person is narcissistic, conceited, or even lonely. What do too many status updates say to our friends? I think the same worries could apply. Friends may also wonder that we do not have something better to do, and therefore lack judgment or social skills.
According to this study, 3 seems to be a magic number. If you post more than 3 Facebook status updates per day, this seems to be the point where your friends back slowly away. Now, this is preliminary research and there are no hard and fast rules. For some, more information is probably welcome. And it’s likely that there are nuances expressed in the details of the photos we post or the comments we make that remain as yet unstudied. There are likely personality differences in how much self-disclosure and exposure we like from our friends. And the rules are likely to be different across various social media. Perhaps 4 Facebook posts a day is too many, but 4 Tweets a day is not.
Of course, some selfies are fun, funny and lovable and seeing pictures of our friends is often enjoyable. And all Facebook posts do not reflect a flaw in your character. Rather than suggesting that a person should stop at one selfie a week and 3 Facebook posts a day, perhaps the lesson this research reveals is consistent with other work in this area. Other work** tells us that our Facebook posts tend to reveal who we really are, at least as our friends see us. Maybe it’s less about changing our habits and more about realizing that on social media, it may be hard to hide who we are. I’m not sure if that is frightening or comforting, but to a social psychologist who studies media, it sure is interesting.
Read More About It
*Here’s a link to a Huffington Post article about the research on selfies done by UK researcher David Houghton and colleagues. You can download the full research paper from this link:
**Read Back and colleagues’ work entitled “Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization” here:
Stonehenge Selfie at: http://statigr.am/p/587867603116160334_10728260
Is this the real Bieber or is he photoshopped?