What is the psychology behind selfies

Selfies (psychology, psyche)

Selfies (psychology, psyche)

Media Psychology - Internet Psychology

The 'perfect selfie'

According to psychologists from the University of Bamberg (2017), the 'perfect selfie' for women in terms of attractiveness and perceived slimness is shot when they show the left half of their face into the camera. They appear more helpful when the right half of their face is turned into the camera. Men should look more personable when the right half of their face is photographed.

To make a body appear slimmer, the camera should be positioned slightly above.

The selfie paradox

Why do so many people like to show their own selfies but dislike other people's?

February 10th, 2017 Although selfies are often posted, opinions about them diverge widely: some see creative opportunities in them and a way to establish contact with other people; others see her as narcissistic, self-portrayal and inauthentic.

The psyche of the posters

Image: Unsplash

For psychology, the selfies are a contemporary cultural phenomenon that provides clues about the psyche of the posters. Psychologists from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich carried out an online survey in order to record motives and judgments for posting and looking at selfies.

A total of 238 people from Austria, Switzerland and Germany were interviewed. 77% of the participants took selfies frequently. One reason for this could be the widespread strategies for self-presentation that are common today - such as self-promotion and self-expression, said study author Sarah Diefenbach from the Department of Psychology at the LMU.


Key motivations seem to be:

  1. The selfie is a kind of self-promotion to inform the audience about one's own positive traits, or
  2. Self-expression to share private moments with the rest of the world and thus (hopefully) gain sympathy, she said.
  3. A third form of self-presentation is categorized as understatement, in which someone presents themselves and their achievements and mental abilities as unimportant.

Negative consequences

Participants who scored high on "self-promotion" or "self-expression" were also more likely to have a positive attitude towards posting selfies - compared with participants who scored high on "understatement".

Interestingly, according to the psychologist in the specialist journal Frontiers in Psychology, 62-67% were aware of the potential negative consequences of selfies - such as the impact on self-esteem - but 77% of those surveyed took selfies.

This negative rating of selfies was also emphasized by 82% of participants, who reported that they preferred viewing other types of photos on social media than this form of self-expression.

The cause of the selfie paradox

Then why are selfies so common? Diefenbach calls this phenomenon the 'selfie paradox': Many people frequently post self-portraits, but most of them don't seem to like them. The key to the paradox may be how participants see their own selfies compared to others.

The participants ascribed more self-portrayal motifs and less authenticity to the selfies of others - compared to those who recorded and presented them themselves, who they also judged to be more self-deprecating and more authentic.

That can explain why each of us takes selfies without feeling narcissistic. If most people think that way, it's no wonder the world is full of selfies, Diefenbach concluded.

© PSYLEX.de - Source: Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Frontiers in Psychology - DOI: 10.3389 / fpsyg.2017.00007; Feb 2017

Increased smartphone use and taking selfies: Correlation with less closeness to nature and greater anxiety

June 21, 2018 Psychologists examined whether there is a connection between smartphone use, the number of selfies and closeness to nature - and what this means for health and mental well-being.

Dr. Miles Richardson and Dr. Zaheer Hussain of the Psychology Department at Derby University and colleagues found that greater reliance on smartphones is associated with less attachment to nature and greater fear.

The study analyzed the data of 244 smartphone users, mostly from Great Britain, with an average age of almost 30 years (61 percent female).

Fear, closeness to nature, smartphone use

In an online survey, they were asked about three psychological areas, including fear, problematic smartphone use and whether they felt connected to nature.

They were also asked how much time they spent with their smartphones and how often they took selfies and nature photos.

The results showed a relationship between fear, the time participants spent on their smartphones, and the number of selfies they took.

Less selfies - more nature photos

Participants with a higher affinity for nature had significantly lower scores for problematic smartphone use, spent less time daily with their smartphones, took fewer selfies and took more pictures of subjects in nature.

The 68 people who had the highest value for closeness to nature were compared with the 66 people who had the lowest value. The participants with the greatest closeness to nature (the top quartile - the top 25 percent):

  • had a significantly lower score for problematic smartphone use; they used it only half as often each day (2 hours 9 minutes compared to 3 hours 40 minutes).
  • They took 90% fewer selfies - one per week compared to 10.
  • They took 300% more pictures of nature - eight a week compared to 2.6.
  • They were much more agreeable, more conscientious and more willing to experience.

Increased ego interest and increased self-adulation

Taking selfies was therefore an important predictor of a lower degree of closeness to nature, write the psychologists.

This may be due to increased ego interest and self-adulation among those who took the most selfies, as opposed to the characteristics of openness and self-reflection, which are more likely to convey an understanding of togetherness in the natural world and a stronger connection with nature the researchers conclude.

© PSYLEX.de - source: University of Derby

Why do some women post ’sexy selfies’ of themselves on social networks?

10.09.2018 According to one in the trade journal PNAS published psychological research, women enter into economic and social competition through this type of selfies - but only if women are not economically equal in society.

Dr Khandis Blake of the University of New South Wales and colleagues researched online social media posts in more than 100 countries.

Income inequality instead of gender inequality

Image: Petr Kratochvil

They found that women tended to invest time and effort in such provocative self-portraits in societies / countries in which women were economically disadvantaged and not - as psychologists predominantly assumed until now - “in societies in which men have more power or who fundamental gender inequality is widespread, ”writes Blake.

This applied across borders and also taking into account possible influencing factors such as population size, social development and Internet access.

“Whether we think that's good or bad, in today's society,” an attractive appearance can lead to social and economic success, she writes.

The researchers found the same psychological pattern in other areas "where women tried to improve their appearance".

Investing in one's own social and economic advancement

For example, spending ("investments") in beauty salons and clothing stores through unjust distributions of salaries could be predicted in many economic zones of the USA, writes Blake.

Salary inequality creates competitiveness and status fears, she says, which is what makes people realize what level of the social ladder they are on.

Wage inequality

Salary inequality is a predictive variable for sexy selfies, the researcher writes, and she believes it is an indicator of socioeconomic advancement in women, which allows conclusions to be drawn about economic motivations in society.

“So if a young woman provocatively puts her bikini in the right light, then don't see her as dull or a victim of circumstances. Realize that she is a strategic player in a complex, social, and developmental game. She tries to maximize what she wants to do with her life - just like everyone else, ”concludes the psychologist.

© PSYLEX.de - Source: Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) - doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1717959115

More research articles, news

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  • Snapchat dysmorphism: How self-manipulated selfies or photo filters influence body image.
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  • 04.08.2018

  • Lots of selfies - narcissism and self-objectification
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  • Self-expression on social media
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