The lesson, as if we need it: Put down the phone once in a while and engage with the world around you.
At least, that is our takeaway from a study at Washington State University. Led by psychology professor Chris Barry, the research found that people who take selfies — self-portraits typically snapped with a smartphone and posted on social media — are viewed by others as less likable, less successful and more insecure. That is in comparison with people more inclined to post “posies” — photos taken by somebody else.
That is not really surprising. Yet the research leads to some interesting conclusions.
“While there may be a variety of motives behind why people post self-images to Instagram, how those photos are perceived appears to follow a more consistent pattern,” said Barry, whose study has been published in the Journal of Research in Personality. “While the findings of this study are just a small piece of the puzzle, they may be important to keep in mind before you make that next post.”
To measure viewers’ reactions to self-produced photos, Barry had a group of students from Washington State look at Instagram feeds from students at Southern Mississippi University. The WSU students were asked to rate the individual profiles on attributes such as self-absorption, self-esteem, dependability and likability. People who posted more selfies — with or without making a “duck face,” we presume — were regarded as having less self-esteem and being less dependable.
We’re not quite sure whether that applies to a shoe selfie on the carpet at PDX.
But a media release from WSU says: “The students who posted more posies were viewed as being relatively higher in self-esteem, more adventurous, less lonely, more outgoing, more dependable, more successful and having the potential for being a good friend while the reverse was true for students with a greater number of selfies on their feed.” Interestingly, selfies designed to highlight physical features — such as flexing in a mirror — were viewed particularly negatively.
This adds to a growing body of research into the selfie phenomenon. And why not? Selfies have become an unavoidable part of the culture and can provide some insight into the human psyche.
A professor at the University of Akron has produced a paper titled, “Selfie-marketing: Exploring narcissism and self-concept in visual user-generated content on social media.” Researchers led by the Thiagarajar School of Management in India have tried to define the motivation of selfie-takers. A study out of London has determined that we tend to focus selfies on our left eye — which might or might not mean something.
Now, we might be tempted to consider this the modern extension of Narcissus, a figure from Greek mythology who falls in love with his own reflection. Or we could simply think of it as a function of living in the digital age. Receiving plenty of “likes” online for a self-portrait can produce dopamine that temporarily makes us feel better about ourselves.
But the overriding lesson — as so often happens these days — is that we should put down the phone once in a while. As psychologist Keely Kolmes told The Seattle Times: “Walk in nature, connect with friends off technology, practice mindfulness and remember that there is a world off of your phone, too. It is about keeping things in balance.”
And when you walk in nature or spend time with friends or family, there is something to keep in mind: You don’t need to post a photo to make it a worthwhile experience.