What is the Real Link between Selfies and Narcissism?
Studies find differences between men and women, among other things.
Posted Aug 06, 2015
A few months ago, I wrote about a new study showing a link between narcissism and selfie-posting among men. It was the first study to examine psychological correlates of selfie-posting, and there is still very little research on the ever-growing phenomenon, although a recently published study lends new insight into who posts selfies.1
The researchers defined selfies as “a self-portrait photograph of oneself (or of oneself and other people), taken with a camera or a camera phone held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, that is usually shared through social media.” There are different kinds of selfies, which may or may not include other people. The researchers examined three kinds—solo selfies; selfies with a romantic partner; and selfies in a group.
In the study I wrote about in my earlier post, the researchers examined a sample of American men. This most recent research expands on those results by studying samples of adults from Poland—both men and women.
The researchers conducted two studies, measuring narcissism and selfie-posting behavior. The first study surveyed 748 adults; the second, 548. In the first study, participants counted how many selfies of each type that they’d posted on social media or texted in the past month. In the second study, researchers with access to participants’ Facebook pages counted how many selfies they had posted, so that it would be a less biased count.
The results showed that overall, women posted more selfies than men did. But what about the relationship between selfie-posting and narcissism? The researchers tested the correlation between narcissism and the number of selfies posted. They controlled for how many total photos participants had posted of any type, so that the researchers could be sure that any relationship they found between selfie-posting and narcissism wasn’t simply due to narcissists posting more photos in general. (People who post more selfies may post more photos of all types.)
They also examined different facets of narcissism. Narcissism is not just a single trait, but a confluence of several related qualities:
- Self-sufficiency—thinking you can do things on your own and don’t need other people;
- Vanity—concern about appearance and a tendency to admire your own physical appearance;
- Leadership—believing that you should have authority over other people, and being willing to exploit others if necessary; and
- Admiration Demand—exhibitionism, feeling entitled to special status or privileges, and feeling superior to others.
Not everyone who scores highly on the overall measure of narcissism necessarily possesses all of these qualities. Thus, the researchers examined these different facets of narcissism to see which ones were most correlated with selfie-posting.
In both studies, participants' total narcissism scores, and measures of all of the narcissism subscales except for Self-Sufficiency, were positively correlated with selfie-posting for men; this was true for all three types of selfies examined. For women, a different picture emerged: Only the Admiration Demand subscale predicted selfie-posting (solo selfies in the first study and selfies with romantic partners in the second study).
It should be noted that all of these correlations were rather small, and as is always the case with correlational research, the existence of a significant correlation most certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who posts frequent selfies is a narcissist. In the case of this study, the correlations were rather modest. Thus, narcissism can explain only a small amount of the selfie-posting behavior that we observe on social media. There may be many other still-to-be-uncovered factors that also influence this behavior. And this study also shows that while narcissistic men are somewhat more likely to post selfies, narcissism in women, for the most part, is unrelated to selfie-posting.
This clearly means that there are likely to be other motivations for selfie-posting than simply showing off. Perhaps selfies can be a way to connect with others, especially those taken with groups or with a romantic partner. This could partially explain why women show less of an association between selfie-posting and narcissism, since women tend to be more likely than men to use social media as a way to connect with others.2
Although this research did examine different types of selfies (solo, relationship partner, group), there may be even finer-grained categories than those identified by the researchers. For example, there may be selfies designed to show off a new haircut or outfit, selfies with a goofy or funny expression, selfies that show the individual at an interesting location, and just plain old solo selfies. Perhaps narcissists are more likely to post selfies in some of these subcategories than others.
In general, people are pretty good at detecting narcissists from their social media profiles3, suggesting that there are certain types of photos (perhaps including types of selfies) that indicate narcissism. These new studies show that there is a consistent, if small, link between narcissism and selfie-posting, especially for men, but there is still a lot more to learn about who posts selfies and why.
Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Albright College, who studies relationships and cyberpsychology. Follow her on Twitter for updates about social psychology, relationships, and online behavior. Read more articles by Dr. Seidman on Close Encounters.
- 1 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.
- 2 Seidman, G., McCarthy, M. K., & Poulson, E. M. (January, 2013). Gender Differences in Communication and Emotional Expression on Facebook. Poster presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA
- 3 Buffardi, L. E., & Campbell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking Websites. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(10), 1303–1314