Selfie: Hardly anyone likes them, but almost everyone does
Last modified: 21-09-2021
When asked whether they prefer to watch their friends’ selfies or ordinary photos on social networks, most users say that they prefer ordinary photos. They see their friends taking pictures of themselves as narcissistic, but they also take pictures of themselves… How to explain this paradox?
In recent years, you can observe the “plague” of selfies on Facebook and Instagram. According to Google statistics from 2014, Android users take 93 million such photos daily. In 2013, the word “selfie” was officially entered into the Oxford English Dictionary, and between 2012 and 2014, the use of this word in English increased by 17,000%.
Why do people take selfies?
Research in which users of social networking sites were asked about the reasons for posting a selfie (eg Sung et al. 2016) indicate that one of the motivations is the willingness to receive attention and present yourself to others. Publishing your selfies can also have a communication function and increase relationship with friends, or an entertainment function. Some admit that they take a selfie for documentation purposes, e.g. as a memento of an event.
Posting a selfie involves two forms of self-presentation. One is self-promotion, that is, the opportunity to present yourself to others as gifted, intelligent and to present your achievements. The second strategy is to open up to others, such as revealing your emotions, to gain sympathy, trust, or recognition from others. Contrary to self-promotion, opening up is not about introducing yourself at your best, but about gaining sympathy through openness and “natural” self-presentation.
Users of social networking sites indicate positive aspects of the selfie, among others, by independence (possibility of taking a picture without the help of others), control, possibility of documentation, increasing relationships with others, having fun However, they admit that posting a selfie can also have negative consequences, such as illusion (creating an artificial world), risking negative reactions from friends and being perceived as narcissistic or showing off.
How do we perceive others’ selfies and how do we perceive ours?
Christoforakos and Diefenbach (2016) noticed in conversations with users of social networking sites that they approach taking selfies differently by others than by themselves. For example, when they talk about themselves, they say that selfies are a form of documentation for them, and when they say about others, they find them more narcissistic. When asked why they take pictures of themselves, they point to practical reasons, e.g. being able to take a quick photo without the help of others, while when talking about others, they point to their characteristics (e.g. narcissistic), saying that people who take selfies are simply the type of person who needs it.
The observation of such a phenomenon in qualitative research prompted the researchers to conduct a quantitative study involving 238 people with an average age of 25 years.
The respondents were to respond to 10 statements about 5 aspects of the selfie: self-irony (“My/Other peoples’ selfies are often funny or self-ironic”), authenticity (“My/Other peoples’ selfies show my/their true personality”), self-presentation (“I/Other people use selfies as a means for self-presentation”), fun (“I/Other people take selfies because it is fun”), situational variability (“My/Other peoples’ selfies are very different from one situation to another”).
The results confirmed that people view their selfies more favorably than the same photos posted by others. They assessed their own photos as more self-ironic and authentic, while other people, according to study participants, were more likely to post selfies for self-presentation and for fun. 40% of respondents said their selfies are self-ironic, but only 13% find self-ironic in other people’s photos. 90% say people post a selfie to present themselves to others, but only 46% said they do it themselves.
Posting selfies on Facebook or Instagram is, therefore, in the opinion of users, an activity that allows others to have fun or satisfy their need for self-presentation, but they do not take it so seriously themselves. The others are true selfie lovers, but their own selfies aren’t typical. Theirs are more authentic and self-ironic.
It can be seen here striving to reduce cognitive dissonance – a phenomenon known in psychology that occurs when a person has two cognitive elements that are incompatible with each other (e.g. thoughts, judgments), or if the behavior of the person is inconsistent with his beliefs. Many people have negative beliefs about posting selfies – they feel that it is artificial, it serves to present themselves in the best light etc., and at the same time they post such photos themselves. How to deal with such dissonance? You can just say that my selfie is different than other people’s, I approach it self-ironically or post such a photo for the practical purpose of documenting an event. In this way, you can act narcissistic without feeling narcissistic.
Another well-known phenomenon in social psychology is self-serving bias. We try to explain our own behavior in such a way as to appear in a good light. Admitting, even to ourselves, self-presentational motives would not show us in a good light, so we attribute such motives to others and to ourselves more favorable traits such as self-irony and authenticity.
And you, why do you take a selfie? ;)
Diefenbach S., Christoforakos L. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. An Exploration of Psychological Functions of Selfies in Self-Presentation. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(7), 1-14. (text at nih.gov)
Author: Maja Kochanowska