Selfie-takers tend to overestimate their attractiveness, study finds

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People who regularly take photos of themselves, or selfies, tend to overestimate their attractiveness and likability to a greater extent, and are seen as more narcissistic by independent observers, compared with non-selfie-takers, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

A wealth of psychological evidence shows that people have a tendency to perceive themselves as being better than average on a wide range of positive traits, a phenomenon known as “self-favoring bias.” There is also evidence that self-favoring bias is strongest in situations in which one has the greatest amount of personal control. Anyone with a social media account can attest to the popularity of self-taken photos, or selfies. By giving people a great deal of personal control over how they present themselves to the world, selfies may be a prime situation for enhancing self-favoring bias.

A team of psychologists led by Daniel Re, of the University of Toronto, conducted a study designed to compare how self-favoring bias is affected selfie-taking. The sample included 198 college students, including 100 who reported regularly taking selfies, and 98 who reported little or no selfie-taking. Study participants were invited to take a selfie using a smartphone camera, and also had their pictures taken by an experimenter.

They were then instructed to rate each photo based on how attractive and likable they thought their friends would perceive them to be in the photo if it were posted on social media. A sample of 178 independent raters recruited on the internet also rated the participants’ photos for attractiveness and likability, as well as for narcissism.

Both groups, the habitual selfie-takers and non-selfie-takers, showed self-favoring bias by thinking that they would be seen as more attractive and more likeable in their photos than they were actually seen by the independent raters. However, the selfie-takers overestimated themselves significantly more, especially when judging their selfies rather than the experimenter-taken photos. In reality, both groups’ selfies were rated as less attractive than the experimenter-taken photos by the independent raters. They also thought the selfie-takers looked significantly more narcissistic than the non-selfie-takers on the basis of their selfies.

The researchers conclude that habitual selfie-taking may increase people’s susceptibility to self-favoring bias, causing them to overestimate the attractiveness of their photos to a greater and greater extent over time. They suggest that this effect may occur because selfie-takers develop strategies for taking flattering photos of themselves that are not as effective as they believe, or perhaps because positive feedback in the form of likes on social media reinforces an inflated sense of self.

Ironically, practice taking selfies actually appears to contribute to those photos being seen more negatively, in terms of narcissism, at least by some observers. Given these findings, social media users may want to think twice before posting their next selfies.