The Psychology of the Selfie
What motivates individuals to take selfies?
Posted May 05, 2019
“Barefoot Wine is an advocate of self-expression and as such have introduced the House of Sole, a pop-up event space in the heart of Soho [in London] that will encourage people to truly express themselves by taking part in a variety of activities including mind and soul reading, a self-customisation bar, and blindfold wine tasting. Barefoot encourages self-expression and celebrates individualism, from campaigns including ‘Bare Your Sole’ where we encourage individuals to shout about a passion point they have to the ‘House of Sole’ which is the ultimate destination for self-expression."
This opening quote is from a press release by Barefoot Wine (BW) who at the end of 2018 involved me in a press campaign concerning the psychology of selfies. Today’s blog post uses material that I provided to BW about the rise of the selfie on social media which was featured at length in the press release. I was approached as a result of the massive worldwide press coverage that Dr. Janarthanan Balakrishnan and I received in relation to our research on obsessive selfie-taking (‘selfitis’) that I’ve written about in previous articles (here, here, and here).
I have come to the view that the selfie is much more than a way to show your friends and family what you’ve been up to, or your new haircut or a celebrity that you’ve meant, and it’s also the most efficient form of self-expression. In the research I published in 2017 with Dr. Balakrishnan in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, we identified the reasons behind the "selfie" phenomenon and what it means to an increasingly digitally connected, culturally aware, and proud generation.
Our research suggested there were six main motivations for taking selfies. They are:
- Self-confidence (e.g. taking selfies to feel more positive about oneself)
- Environmental enhancement (e.g. taking selfies in specific locations to feel good and show off to others)
- Social competition (e.g. taking selfies to get more "likes" on social media)
- Attention seeking (e.g. taking selfies to gain attention from others)
- Mood modification (e.g. taking selfies to feel better)
- Subjective conformity (e.g. taking selfies to fit in with one’s social group and peers)
The motivations for taking selfies may be different. However, the selfie in general enables an individual to create a genuine identity or a perceived identity. Either way, this can be a positive source of boosted self-confidence, allowing the individual to express themselves in a way in which adds to their identity or character and showcase who they truly are (or who they believe they are and/or want to be).
The rise in selfie popularity has also allowed to us to be more connected on a personal level. Before the invention of modern-day smartphones, sharing personal experiences were restricted to physical social interactions or one-to-one conversations. This trend has seen us being a lot more open and talking about our experiences to an extent where we wouldn’t have before. This has allowed people to celebrate their hobbies, interests, and the aspects that make individuals who they are.
However, as selfies have become a popular form of self-expression, issues around vanity can kick in, the findings of our research showed that excessive selfie-takers were more likely to be motivated to take selfies for attention seeking, environmental enhancement, and social competition (and which emphasises perceived identity).
In recent years, selfies have become a key source of personal expression and are a quick and convenient way for people to instantly satisfy lots of their own personal needs as well as present themselves in a way that they want other individuals to see them. For many people, selfies help create their identity for how they wish others to see them and can be a source of boosting self-esteem. The rise of social media has meant that such self-expressions can be displayed instantly to their followers and the wider world more generally.
The rise of the selfie has put individuals more in control of how they are represented in their wider social community. If a person is not happy with the picture they have taken, they can either delete it or use photo editing apps/software to change an image to the way that suits them the best. It has subsequently made the individual more self-aware, which for many is a good thing, but for a smaller minority, it may make them feel worse about how they feel if they are insecure and compare their own selfies with others.
Ten years ago, it was very hard to share personal experiences except on a one-to-one basis or within a person’s immediate social circle. However, social media has allowed social networks to expand in ways never thought possible a decade ago. A selfie can say more about a person than the written word and it’s one of the reasons they have become so popular.
Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 722-736.
Gaddala, A., Hari Kumar, K. J., & Pusphalatha, C. (2017). A study on various effects of internet and selfie dependence among undergraduate medical students. Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, 5(2), 29-32.
Griffiths, M.D. (2018). ‘Behavioural addiction’ and ‘selfitis’ as constructs – The truth is out there! Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52, 730-731.
Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health, 36(1), 3-5.
Kaur, S., & Vig, D. (2016). Selfie and mental health issues: An overview. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 7(12), 1149
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Singh, D., & Lippmann, S. (2017). Selfie addiction. Internet and Psychiatry, April 2. Located at: https://www.internetandpsychiatry.com/wp/editorials/selfie-addiction/
Singh, S. & Tripathi, K.M. (2017). Selfie: A new obsession. SSRN, Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2920945