There are many reasons why people post selfies online. Sometimes it is to show off a new outfit or look. Other times it is to convey an emotional state. And, sometimes, it is to attract the attention of another person or group of people.
But what are the psychological consequences of posting selfies online? Do they make us happier and more confident about our appearance? Or, do they have the reverse effect — undermining body satisfaction and self-esteem?
Research published in the Journal of Health Psychology examined these questions in a sample of Chinese women. Interestingly, the researchers found that posting selfies were significantly and positively related to self-esteem.
"Taking and posting selfies on social networking sites are very prevalent among young people," state the researchers, led by Yuhui Wang of Renmin University of China. "However, research that investigates the psychological consequences of selfie-posting is scant. [...] We found that selfie-posting was positively related to women's self-esteem."
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 450 female college students from a university in China to take part in a short survey. Participants were asked to report how often they posted selfies online and how many likes and positive comments they typically received from their posts. The researchers also asked participants to complete measures of body satisfaction—for example, indicating their agreement with statements such as "I am satisfied with my body" and "I feel connected with my body"—and self-esteem.
Using this information, the researchers tested whether participants who posted more selfies tended to have higher self-esteem. They found that the posters did. They also reported that positive feedback, in the form of likes and comments, and body satisfaction were, not surprisingly, positively related to self-esteem as well.
Next, the researchers explored the process by which posting selfies might increase one's self-esteem. Using a statistical technique known as a mediation model, they found evidence to suggest that posting selfies encourages positive social media feedback, which improves body image and increases self-esteem. The researchers state, "Our finding indicates that women who post selfies usually receive positive feedback, which in turn is beneficial to their self-esteem."
While this study can't rule out the possibility that people with higher body satisfaction and self-esteem tend to post more selfies online in the first place, the key insight from Wang's work is an important one: The positive feedback generated from posting selfies can act to improve body image and self-esteem.
The authors conclude, "When women post selfies which usually contain positive body-related information due to selective self-presentation, they have pride in their own body and positively evaluate themselves, which in turn enhances their self-esteem."
Facebook image: AlessandroBiascioli/Shutterstock
Wang, Y., Wang, X., Liu, H., Xie, X., Wang, P., & Lei, L. (2018). Selfie posting and self-esteem among young adult women: A mediation model of positive feedback and body satisfaction. Journal of health psychology, 1359105318787624.