Narcissism

Who's Most Likely to Post a Video Selfie, and Why?

4 things you didn't know about video selfies

Posted Sep 15, 2015

More and more people believe that we are becoming a narcissistically-obsessed selfie nation. Not everyone is a selfie-taker, however. Even those who are may or may not be expressing the personality disorder of narcissism, or even its symptoms. They may or may not be exhibitionists. Fads, by definition, are commonplace and the selfie-post is clearly reaching fad-like proportions.

It’s not just the selfie still photo that’s taking up the Internet’s bandwidth, but the selfie video. I mused over this trend one morning while watching news coverage of a large northern California fire. On Twitter, a woman posted a selfie video as she evacuated her home, which was directly in the fire’s fast-moving path.

This woman’s video was not the only one being posted in the midst of this devastating blaze. I found it remarkable to contemplate why someone whose life is in jeopardy would take the time to record a video and then, even more amazingly, stand there and upload it. When seconds mean the difference between life and death, wouldn’t you want to use every second to get yourself out of harm’s way?

In some cases, it seems as though recording a disaster-in-the-making might have some survival value. If you’re on an airplane, and an engine catches fire, such a video can provide helpful clues for investigators (assuming you and/or your cellphone survive). In a life or death situation, however, is it best to take the time to do this? Not only would you lose vital seconds, but it’s an enormous distraction from the task at hand, which is to escape.

Apart from the exhibitionism reflected in extreme selfie-posting, I tried to tease out what might distinguish video selfies, especially those posted during disasters. Psychological research on selfies seems to be limited primarily to still selfies, as the video trend may not have caught up with the scientific journals.

Here’s what I found about selfies in general:

1. Men who post selfies are more likely to be narcissistic than selfie-posting women. University of Wroclaw, Poland, psychologist Piotr Sorokowski and colleagues (2015) tested nearly 1300 men and women ages 17 to 47 on four qualities subsumed by narcissism: Leadership, Self-sufficiency, Admiration demand, and Vanity. Although women posted more selfies than did men, 3 of those narcissism scales (except Self-sufficiency) predicted selfie use.

2. Certain types of narcissists are less likely to post certain types of selfies. According to University of Southern Mississippi psychologist Christopher Barry and colleagues (2015), although selfie-posting is becoming highly common among college students (especially women), there are women who avoid posting their own pictures online. Surprisingly, these were the women highest in one form of narcissism: the “vulnerable” type whose self-esteem is fragile and who is highly self-critical. The narcissist, especially a woman who feels she’s not attractive enough, may actually stay away from the selfie post, and presumably the selfie video.

3. People are more likely to post selfies involving the left side of their face. This fascinating conclusion comes from Italian neuropsychologist Nicola Bruno and colleagues (2015), who believe that people prefer to show their left side because it is the side of the face more expressive of emotions. By favoring the left side, then, people are using their outer image to reveal their inner state.

4. Narcissistic men with psychopathic tendencies are more likely to post selfies but non-psychopathic narcissists are more likely to edit their selfies. According to Jesse Fox and Margaret Rooney, of The Ohio State department of Communications (2015), men high in the “dark triad” traits of psychopathy and narcissism are more likely to post their selfies, but those high in narcissism and self-objectification (seeing themselves as objects) were more likely to present the view to the world that they preferred to show.

None of these studies specifically examined the video disaster selfie. Still, we can explore the data to understand the motivation behind this unusual variant of social media use.

If narcissists are most likely to post selfies (other than selfies showing their bodies), perhaps it’s only the ones who want to see themselves as heroes who like to portray themselves battling danger. After all, as you’re showing your death-defying self in the midst of escape from danger, you are showing the world just how brave you are.

Because the news media gravitates toward covering disasters in general, these narcissistic heroes-in-the-making may hope to have their posts receive international attention and fame. What better way to impress your audience than to be involved in a rescue?

The problem may lie, then, not so much in the people who post these selfies when instead they should be trying to escape, but in the media that rewards this behavior. True, perhaps only a narcissist (especially the one who’s also slightly psychopathic) would record such events. However, if "a tree fell in the forest and no one saw it," the media refrained from airing such videos, these attention-grabbing types would probably just stop doing it.

The other side to this phenomenon was revealed in the selfie research. Women who feel that their bodies are unworthy of display may suffer more, due to their failure to hop onto the social media bandwagon. Their fear of showing themselves may make them victims of social ostracism, or at least pose daily challenges to their self-esteem.

The full story on selfie videos has yet to be told. In the meantime, the next time you’re tempted to post the video feed of yourself in any situation, ask yourself why and whether this truly will benefit or harm your self-esteem, sense of fulfillment, and perhaps your life. 

Follow me on Twitter@swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

References:

Barry, C. T., Doucette, H., Loflin, D. C., Rivera-Hudson, N., & Herrington, L. L. (2015). 'Let Me Take a Selfie': Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, doi:10.1037/ppm0000089

Bruno, N., Bertamini, M., & Protti, F. (2015). Selfie and the city: A world-wide, large, and ecologically valid database reveals a two-pronged side bias in naïve self-portraits. Plos ONE, 10(4),

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, 76161-165. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.12.017

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, 85123-127. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.004