In 2015, selfies resulted in the deaths of more people worldwide than those from shark attacks: to be precise, the victims were engaging in daring acts in order to get a good selfie.

Why are we so obsessed with broadcasting our grinning faces?

In part, advances in technology are responsible for the selfie phenomenon. In 2010, Apple released the iPhone with a forward facing camera- the same year that Instagram, arguably the social networking epicenter of the selfie, was born. In just a few short years, selfies became so eponymous that in 2013- just three years after the birth of Instagram- “selfie” was awarded the title of ‘Word of the Year’ by the Oxford dictionary. In 2015, over 80 million photos were posted to Instagram- per day – with a significant number of these being selfies.

But surely the opportunity alone afforded by technology cannot account for our selfie-culture. What is the real motivation? A scientific study published last month investigated the motives for using Instagram and found five major reasons: social interaction, archiving, escapism, peeking (on others), and self-expression - including the desire to be noticed by others and to “show-off”.1 Self-expression is an important facet of human identity – particularly for youth. Are selfies just a modern form of an age-old desire for self-expression, or are they symptomatic of an unprecedented narcissism? Perhaps the arrival of the selfie has blurred the line between these two possibilities…

Research has shown the social networking site use is linked to narcissism- but whether narcissists use Facebook more, or Facebook makes us more narcissistic is unclear.  While there has been many investigations in the past five years into social networking site use, especially Facebook, there has been comparatively little research into the selfie phenomenon specifically. However, emerging research looking particularly at selfies and narcissism is painting a bleak picture. Three studies published in 2015 found that narcissism predicted selfie-posting frequency,2 linked narcissism AND psychopathy with self-posting frequency amongst men3 and a third study found that the link between narcissism and selfie-posting was stronger in men then women.4

Perhaps these trends are symptomatic of a new lifestyle that traffics in the instant, the highly transient and constantly shared thoughts, experiences and moment-to-moment living. Where do you end and the outside world begin? Where is your unique identity? Perhaps it’s no longer internalized and individual. If so, the only element that remains as exclusive and inviolate proof of your unique identity is….your face.

Before posting a selfie, consider that you may be sending a different message to your followers than intended. Psychology researchers set out to investigate what a selfie can reveal about our personality.5 First, thirteen different selfie features were identified, including ‘duckface’; ‘height of camera’; ‘photoshop editing’; ‘amount of body (shown)’ and whether the person was alone or not. The results showed that features of selfies reflect their owners’ personality traits. Showing positive emotions in a selfie predicted agreeableness (kindness, co-operation and trustworthiness) and openness (curiosity, creativity, and risk-taking), whereas duckface indicated neuroticism (anxiety, moodiness, low-self esteem). A selfie may indeed be a form of expressionism, but not in the manner to which the owner of the face in question had originally aspired!

References

  1. Lee, E., Lee, J. A., Moon, J. H., & Sung, Y. (2015). Pictures speak louder than words: Motivations for using Instagram. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(9), 552-556.
  2. Weiser, E.B. #Me: Narcissism and its facets as predictors of selfie-posting frequency. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 477-481.
  3. Fox, J., & Rooney, M. C. (2015). The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 161–165.
  4. Sorokowski, P., Sorokowska, A., Oleszkiewicz, A., Frackowiak, T., Huk, A., & Pisanski, K. (2015). Selfie posting behaviors are associated with narcissism among men. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 123-127.
  5. Qiu, L., Lu, J, Yang, S., Qu, W., & Zhu, T. (2015). What does your selfie say about you? Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 443-449.

About the Author

Susan Greenfield Ph.D.

Susan Greenfield, Ph.D., is a British scientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.