- Selfie-taking is often viewed as narcissistic, yet most people do it.
- Researchers sought to understand the “selfie-paradox”: Why do people take selfies when they claim to dislike them?
- Self-presentation and self-disclosure predicted positive feelings towards selfie-taking.
- People may have a selfie-blindspot, believing that they, but not others, have good reasons for taking selfies.
With the advent of the self-facing camera, selfies became a staple in many people’s lives. Yet, selfie-taking is often criticized as narcissistic and inauthentic. Furthermore, people claim that they prefer regular photos of their friends rather than selfies.
Diefenbach and Christoforakos (2017) thus sought to understand the selfie-paradox: Why do people take selfies when they claim to dislike them?
The researchers asked 238 participants (167 women, 71 men) ages 18-63 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to complete an online survey that included their selfie-taking behaviors, selfie-taking emotions, self-presentation strategies, and attitudes towards selfies. Most participants took selfies regularly (at least once a month). Results indicated that both self-promotion strategies (presenting good aspects of oneself) and self-disclosure strategies (showing truthful aspects of oneself for sympathy or a connection) predicted positive feelings about taking selfies. Meanwhile, the strategy of understatement — fishing for compliments by downplaying one's qualities — predicted negative feelings about taking selfies, likely because selfies are less compatible with this presentation strategy.
Importantly, people saw their own selfie-taking as different from others’ selfie-taking. They believed that others took selfies to present themselves in certain ways, while their own selfies were more “authentic” and “self-ironic” (e.g., funny). Overall, participants had negative feelings about selfies, seeing them as harmful to one’s self-esteem and a potential contributor to illusions (i.e., "an illusionary world").
Altogether, people appear to believe that they, but not others, have good reasons for taking selfies, therefore maintaining positive views of themselves relative to others (a self-serving bias). Researchers believe that people’s blindspots for their selfie-taking allow them to present themselves in desired ways. “One may act narcissistic without feeling narcissistic," wrote Diefenbach and Christoforakos.
That said, the story is not this simple. While we typically perceive selfie-takers as more narcissistic, several studies (e.g., Barry et al., 2019; Boursier et al., 2020; Re et al., 2016) do not support this assumption. Therefore, rather than judging others who take selfies and excusing ourselves to feel better, perhaps the better approach is simply to embrace selfie-taking as the new norm. Either way, selfies are here to stay.
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, 1-14, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00007