By its strictest definition, the selfie is a means of narcissistically farming attention from strangers. However, new research believes strangers have built up an immunity.
New research might make you think twice before taking that next selfie. The study found that those who took selfies were perceived by strangers to be less likeable, lonelier, and even have lower self-esteem compared to those who didn’t. On the other hand, people who posted photos of themselves taken by other people were perceived as more likeable, successful, dependable, and friendlier.
It’s been a while since I did the data analysis, but it was so different that I thought I’d done something wrong, just to be honest about it,” says professor of psychology Chris Barry, who led the study. “ that can’t be right. But it is.”
Barry’s team were searching for a correlation between selfie-takers and traits pertaining to narcissism. After all, those who take selfies are assumed to do so out of a love of themselves—and there is some research to back this up. However, upon running psychological profiles on 30 college students who used Instagram for selfies, “We didn’t find anything,” says Barry. “People post for lots of reasons. This isn’t necessarily a window into someone’s personality.”
While this may be the case, photographs posted are perceived as a window into someone’s personality, researchers hypothesised. As it follows, the research team tasked more than 100 college students to rate the Instagram feeds of 30 other students on an array of aspects, such as rating the user’s self-esteem and self-absorption.
Barry’s team were searching for a correlation between selfie-takers and traits pertaining to narcissism. After all, those who take selfies are assumed to do so out of a love of themselves—and there is some research to back this up.
Here, the researchers found something. People who had more selfies posted to their account were considered lousier in every measured criterion, even being considered less confident and open to adventure. By contrast, those who posted “posies” (photos taken of themselves by someone else) were perceived as likeable, accomplished people that subjects would want to be around.
Barry believes that it is possible that posting more selfies bombards people with too much of you—there’s less room for posts on food, your hobbies, where you’ve been etc. He also speculates that technology and social media tropes are at odds with our biological expectations of what people look like.
“One theory is we think maybe the posie is seen as more natural. If we knew that person in real life, that’s how we’d perceive them,” says Barry. “The selfie is not natural…and maybe more showboaty,” he laughs.
Ultimately, the researchers don’t advise the public to abstain from selfies altogether, but rather suggest giving it some thought before posting one.
“The cautionary tale for this is, what people think your reasons are may be different from what they genuinely are,” says Barry.