Professional concern about the ‘Rise of Selfies’

An increasing number of research studies around the globe have examined the ballooning popularity of ‘selfies’ – with many now reporting technological advancement has given us a new ‘Addiction Disorder’.

For example, a review of the literature on selfie-taking and mental health by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the College of Home Science in Ludhiana and published in the Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, reported selfie ‘addiction’ was most associated with low self-esteem, narcissism, loneliness and depression.

In response to such studies, the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors’ magazine Institute InBrief has analysed ‘The Rise and Rise of the Selfie’ and posed the question: ‘Why do people ‘selfie’ – and should therapists be concerned?’

In exploring the motivations ‘for all the photos of ourselves’, the authors particularly focused upon the issues:

  • ‘Whether, as mental health professionals, we should be worried about the phenomenon?’
  • ‘Is there any connection to the darker side of our human nature?’

Emphasising the growing concern was a detailed study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, with 400 students from two Indian university management schools where: over half the sample (223 respondents) reported taking between 1-4 selfies a day; with more than a quarter (141) taking between 5-8 selfies per day;’ and nearly 10% of the sample (36 students) took more than 8 a day.

In response to what is being universally described as the explosive rise of ‘obsessive’ selfietaking, researchers Dr Mark Griffiths and Dr Janarthanan Balakrishnan examined whether there was any substance to claims that taking selfies ‘can be a time-consuming and potentially obsessive behavior’.

Particularly enlightening were the specific comments from students relating to their motivations, including:

  • ‘I gain enormous attention by sharing my selfies on social media.’
  • ‘Taking different selfie poses helps increase my social status.’
  • ‘Taking more selfies improves my mood and makes me feel happy.’
  • ‘I become a strong member of my peer group through selfie postings.’

Griffiths commented their study exposed six motivations for taking selfies:

1: Self-confidence to feel more positive about oneself (for example, the comment of respondent Tess: ‘I admire myself and gain extraordinary confidence, when I see myself in selfies’).

2: Environmental enhancement to feel good and show off to others in specific locations (for example, the remark by Nila: ‘Taking selfies in a specific environment helps me to remember the moment for a long time’).

3: Social competition to get more ‘likes’ on social media (for example, the response by Lakhsmi: ‘I feel I am lost when my friends get more ‘likes’ and comments for selfies than me’).

4: Attention-seeking to gain attention from others (for example, the comment by Murthy: ‘I spend at least 20 minutes editing and grooming the picture before uploading it in social media’).

5: Mood modification to feel better (for example, Precilla’s remark: ‘I take selfies to relax and energise my mood to a positive temperament’).

6: Subjective conformity to fit in with one’s social group and peers (for example, the quote from Aashik: ‘I try to show the best of my of creativity by taking different selfies, which uplifts my social status among my friends’).

Griffiths noted these motivations ‘enable individuals to create genuine or perceived identities: the former expressing who the selfie-taker is and the latter showcasing who they believe they are or want to be’.

Similarly a study in the Journal of European Marketing, which examined in-depth interviews with 15 millennial women (aged 19-30), reported three main reasons why people (especially, female millennials) post selfies.

The researchers found they’re ‘all about managing impressions and thereby managing self-esteem’ and fell into three categories:

  • To convey happiness: as ‘a reflection of their hoped-for lives’, inasmuch as they post only photos which highlight the best parts of their lives;
  • To show beauty: If a woman posts a picture of herself looking beautiful, ‘it adds to her desired identity, so carefully curated, as a physically attractive person’;
  • To enhance self-esteem: a solid number of ‘likes’ can increase a person’s self-esteem.

Researcher Caroline Kowalczyk noted the desire to manage impressions on social media was ‘so strong that interviewees acknowledged posting both authentic and false posts in order to manage their reputations as happy, attractive people’.

A study involving 404 Kuwaiti university students, published in the journal Mobile Media & Communication, found ‘selfperceived attractiveness predicted the activities of posting and taking selfies’; and female respondents were more likely to be involved in selfie-related activities, and to use selfies for what they defined as ‘appraisal-seeking self-presentation’.

In a study reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Professor of Psychology at Korea university Yongjun Sung and associates identified four motivations for posting selfies: attention-seeking; communication; archiving; and entertainment.

They noted ‘all motivations except entertainment joined narcissism in significantly predicting selfie-posting intention’; moreover only narcissism ‘predicted selfie-posting frequency’.

Another Indian study of 50 adolescents published on the Social Science Research Network found narcissism and hyperactivity were positively correlated with selfie ‘addiction’, while self-image was negatively correlated with selfie addiction. AMP


Sources: AIPC Institute InBrief, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Journal of European Marketing, Mobile Media & Communication, Personality and Individual Differences, Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, and Social Science Research Network.