I’ve previously written how posting selfies is not a disorder (no, sorry, selfitis doesn’t exist). Others have even suggested that posting selfies is simple a sign of healthy self-expression.
But last year, a few studies were published that linked taking selfies and posting them to a social network like Facebook to certain narcissistic traits. And this led some to believe that if you post a lot of selfies, you must be a narcissist.
However, the answer to the question of why people post selfies — what motivates us to post selfies? — is more complicated and nuanced — as it usually is.
One of the studies in question was conducted by Eric Weiser (2015) who examined a sample of 1,204 people who were surveyed about their selfie posting behavior, and then took a 40-item narcissistic personality test. This study helpfully teased out which narcissistic behaviors are driving selfie posting behaviors. The researcher found that the Leadership/Authority (related to psychological resilience and social potency) and Grandiose Exhibitionism traits were linked to selfie posting, while Entitlement/Exploitativeness was not.
To be clear, the researchers don’t know whether selfie behavior drives narcissism or narcissism drives posting more selfies, since this was only a survey and could only tease out correlations.
But the problem with this kind of research is that it is testing for only specific personality type — narcissistic. Isn’t it also likely that selfie posting behavior is more complex than simply saying, “Well, if you’re narcissistic, you’re more likely to post selfies?”
Why Do People Post Selfies?
Sung et al. (2016) thought so too, so the researchers designed a study to examine the motivations people have for posting pictures of oneself. The scientists surveyed 315 participants, administering a questionnaire and a narcissism inventory.
They found that, in the people they surveyed, there were four primary motivations for people to post selfies to a social network like Facebook or Instagram:
Findings of this study revealed four motivations for posting selfies: attention seeking, communication, archiving, and entertainment. Of particular interest to the psychological mechanism of selfies is the motivation of “attention seeking.” [Social networking sites] serve as platforms for individuals to seek self-concept validation and affirmation through the approval of others (Bazarova & Choi, 2014). […]
[For communication,] selfies, as they are highly personal in content, make it easy and convenient for individuals to build and maintain relationships within their social networks, both directly through comments on the selfies or indirectly through others’ reactions to the selfies. […]
The emergence of the “archiving” motivation suggests that individuals take selfies and post them on SNSs to document special events and occasions in their lives. […]
As the last motivation, findings related to the “entertainment” motivation suggest that individuals take and post selfies for fun and to escape boredom.
So indeed, the reasons people post selfies are many, and only one of them is directly related to narcissism or narcissistic tendencies. People seem to do it for many different reasons, so taking a selfie doesn’t make you a narcissist — or even make it more likely that you could be one.
However, the researchers did confirm the findings of the other researchers from 2015 — namely that people who score more highly on a narcissism trait scale post more frequently to social media sites like Facebook. This seems like common sense, though. Why wouldn’t someone who was more narcissistic post more frequently to a site that rewarded people for such behaviors?
Putting this into perspective, we have to remember that narcissists still make up a tiny portion of the population — even those who are on social media.
Personally, I find myself posting a selfie more in the “archiving” vein, to document that I was at a certain place at a certain time with certain people. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos, and so I see selfies as a simple extension of normal interest in capturing moments in a way that can be remembered later on.
So folks, snap away and be safe in the knowledge that what you’re doing is perfectly normal behavior.