Men Who Post Selfies Are More Narcissistic

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17 Jan 2014 --- Young man taking selfie on smartphone in living room --- Image by ? Frank Van Delft/Cultura/Corbis
Photo: Frank Van Delft/Corbis

By now, society has developed a pretty well-defined stereotype about the sort of person who sits around all day posting selfies, and it is not a positive one. But are frequent selfie-posters really as narcissistic as they seem? If a new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences is any indication, then the answer just might be yes, they are.

For the study, Jesse Fox, an assistant professor at Ohio State, and Margaret Rooney, a graduate student there, had a sample of 800 men fill out an online survey that included both questions about their social-media habits and items designed to measure their levels of narcissism, psychopathy, and self-objectification (which is basically what it sounds like: the internalization of the idea that people are valuable primarily to the extent they’re seen as sexually attractive).

Summing up their results in the study’s abstract, the researchers write:

Self-objectification and narcissism predicted time spent on [social-network sites]. Narcissism and psychopathy predicted the number of selfies posted, whereas narcissism and self-objectification predicted editing photographs of oneself posted on SNSs.

This isn’t particularly shocking, but the researchers say it’s the first time anyone has measured this, and it’s useful to experimentally confirm this sort of belief. The sample’s all-male-ness is slightly weird, of course — it would be useful to conduct a similar study on an all-female group and see how the results stack up, given that women definitely face more and different pressures when it comes to online self-presentation.

I’m also curious about the psychological characteristics of people who go on, say, Facebook primarily not to post but to look at other people’s postings. Does the experience of mindlessly clicking through other people’s wonderful-looking, highly curated online lives make these lurkers more narcissistic, or does it cause them to post less because they’re worried their own content doesn’t stack up to their friends’? We still have a lot to learn about the psychological effects of our favorite time-wasting technologies.