Are You Taking Too Many Selfies?

Why do we take selfies?

Posted Apr 26, 2018

  • Yulia Mayorova/Shutterstock
    Source: Yulia Mayorova/Shutterstock
    I gain enormous attention by sharing selfies on social media
  • Taking different selfie poses helps increase my social status
  • Taking selfies instantly modifies my mood
  • I take selfies as trophies for future memories

Do any of these statements apply to you?  Is the obsessive taking of selfies and sharing them on social media indicative of low self-esteem?  Is it a way to try to become more intimate with one’s friends and associates?

The word ‘selfie’ describes the act of taking a photo of oneself and then sharing the photo on social media.  More specifically, it can be defined as taking a photograph of oneself possibly with a smartphone camera often held at arm’s length in order to photograph as much of a person as possible.  Additionally, the photograph may also include other people and may sometimes be taken with the camera pointed towards a mirror.

An interesting study by Janarthanan Balakrishnan of Thiagarajar School of Management, India and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in the UK sought to develop a scale to measure a person’s motivations for taking selfies, and to identify how these motivations differed between people.

They initially employed several focus groups of students from whom they eventually generated 20 statements to be used in their Selfitis Behaviour Scale.  The researchers then administered the scale to 400 respondents in order to determine the possible motivations for taking and posting selfies.  They labelled these as:

  • Attention seeking – taking and posting selfies to feel more popular.  Social media is an obvious way to gain attention through a large audience and attention seeking may be one of the main reasons why people take selfies and use social media.
  • Mood modification – has been described by Griffiths (2005) as an experience that makes someone feel better and is part of what defines addiction.  Selfie taking is another way in which people can enhance their mood, which reinforces selfie-taking behaviour.
  • Self-confidence - The taking selfies may increase the self-confidence of those who engage in this behaviour.  Furthermore, it is possible to edit and enhance selfies before posting them on social media, meaning that people may obtain a photo closer to their ideal self from editing a selfie. 
  • Social competition - taking selfies to increase one’s social status, or posting selfies to get social media likes.
  • Subjective conformity – This refers to an individual’s tendency to copy what others do.  Social media platforms allow users to create different groups and feel a sense of belongingness to a particular group.  There is a possibility that selfie takers adopt certain ‘online’ selfie rules to achieve a degree of social acceptance.    
  • Environmental enhancement – This is the taking of selfies to create memories or trophies of oneself (e.g. at a concert or after running a marathon).  Environmental enhancement also means that people are able to express themselves more freely through the taking of selfies.

In terms of the number of selfies taken, 223 participants reported taking between 1 and 4 selfies per day, 141 took between 5 and 8 selfies per day and 36 took more than 8 selfies per day.  In terms of number of postings, 136 participants reported posting none per day, 162 posted between one and three times per day and 102 posted more than three times per day.  From this were derived three categories of Selfitis.

  • Borderline – taking a selfie up to three times per day, but not posting this on social media.
  • Acute – taking a selfie at least three times per day and posting each of these on social media.
  • Chronic – possessing the urge to take selfies all day and posting these on social media at least six times in a day.

Different motivations for different groups

The chronic group had higher scores than each of the other two groups for attention seeking, social competition and environmental enhancement, which means that these factors were what motivated the chronic group to take and post selfies.

The group labelled as borderline (taking selfies but not necessarily posting them) had higher scores for self-confidence and mood modification.  Therefore, what motivated this group to take selfies was feeling positive about themselves for taking a selfie and doing so to enhance their mood.

For the acute group (three selfies per day and posting on social media) subjective conformity was main motivator.  Scores on subjective conformity were very low however in the borderline group.

Is it really Selfitis?

Selfitis is a new construct which requires further validation in terms of it’s relationship to other factors of addiction and compulsion.  We might initially have considered the taking of selfies as a slightly dysfunctional or strange activity, perhaps indicative of narcissistic behaviour traits.  However, the prevalence of selfie taking would also now seem to be a normal recreational pastime and part of our way of using social media, with people editing and refining photos before posting to various social media platforms.  So is it dysfunctional and strange or just normal behaviour in the age of social media?

References

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M. J. (2017). ‘An Exploratory Study of ‘Selfitis’ and the Development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale.’ International Journal of Mental Health Addiction.

Griffiths, M. (2005). ‘A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework.’ Journal of Substance Use, 10 (4), 191–197.

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