Selfie-takers tend to overestimate their attractiveness, study finds

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.

47 Comments

  1. Yes! Whenever I see someone’s page with 97% selfie, I find it extremely unappealing

  2. I could have told you all of this without needing to conduct a study TBH. On the flip side, I also believe that people who never take a selfie and rarely ever post photos of themselves, might believe that they are perceived much less favorably than what their peers and independent observes might actually think of them.

  3. FreeSteamKeys on

    People who take selfies tend to procrastinate more too. On this note, if you suffer from procrastination try procrastination bulldozer method. Really helped me turn my life around.

  4. It may not necessarily be that they aren’t as attractive as they think they are, because some probably are attractive, but they place their attractiveness at a higher value than what it really is.

    • James Ferlong on

      No.. it’s just that EVERYONE looks more attractive in a selfie than they are. The same goes for direct on mirror shots or glam shots from the 80s.

      Those are not real life scenarios of what you look like.

      If you want to see what you look like put a couple HD cameras up and record yourself from multiple angles and you will see all the flaws you happily ignored before or that you could not see with your low quality selfie camera and filters.

      It’s not the desire to take selfies that makes someone think they are more attractive really, though you can say ANYONE who looks in a mirror or takes pictures of themselves a lot COULD be a narcissist to a degree.

      In reality people USE selfies to FEEL more attractive and there is nothing wrong with that. People would all do better to be more confident and selective in their lives.

  5. The reddit thread on this is pretty interesting. Someone made the point that selfie takers take pictures at the most flattering angles and start to believe that this ideal snapshot is how they look from every angle at all times. This then leads to them greatly overestimating their attractiveness as the 100’s of photos they take show one thing but reality is quite different.

  6. I find the whole thing very odd. Why would anyone think anyone else wants to see the same exact posed self-portrait over & over again? I guess I am just too old as the entire concept of the selfie makes no sense to me at all.

    • strawberryblueart on

      I really don’t want to see the same picture of the same person over and over, but I do have friends who always do something interesting and unique with their style from day to day and I enjoy seeing what they come up with because that pertains to my interests. Most compulsive selfie takers do tend to always look the same though.

  7. Between this and the study concluding that Facebook people are depressed, turns out I’m surrounded by an army of miserable creatures. And to think they called me weird for doing neither.

    • James Ferlong on

      If you’ve ever looked in a mirror then you’ve effectively taken a selfie, just your brain instead.

      It’s well known that we think we are more attractive than we are when we look into a mirror or selfie. Direct on shots are always misleadingly attractive for starters, plus we get used to our own flaws over time.

      As younger people we are also always less sure of our attractiveness because we are not used to ourselves and we are changing fast which our brain cannot adjust with fast enough to keep us from looking at ourselves and being like WTF.

      • It’s a small circle (15 or less), but the family and friends I know who use FB regularly, are all miserable creatures. Like a room full of people screaming out loud for attention. Uhg.

        • I use Facebook to attempt to keep track of things I read and post information for people who might be interested… I’ve noticed completely retarded, baseless posts with nothing whatsoever to be gained will be ‘liked’ far more than anything that’s actually intelligent, useful, or necessary. It’s certainly not the go to place for intellectuals.. but its also a good way to gauge public opinion, as clueless as it may be.

          • I’ve found that Twitter is decent for keeping up w news. Reddit is probably the king tho. I find a lot of fun and useful info there and I just browse! Don’t even have an account there.

  8. What does this whole effort of ‘study’ even matter? I think it’s good that people think they’re beautiful/pretty/handsome. It’s better than sitting around thinking,”I’m so ugly”. I don’t get it. If they post it to Facebook, that’s their choice since it stands there as an option anyway. Plus, it’s their Facebook! I don’t see why it matters to people so much? I literally have about ehhh – 10 selfies of myself on my Facebook out of the maybe 100 photos I have posted. I look good in those selfies since they’re pictures of me after I got ready for work, for an interview, a meeting, etc. Yeah, I’ll post them because it’s MY Facebook and regardless of what “studies” or anyone else thinks, I think I look good in those pictures and felt happy for myself. Why is having confidence in yourself and the way you look suddenly seem bad in this post? What he hell is this world coming to…

    • James Ferlong on

      It doesn’t matter. Just because someone does a study doesn’t mean anyone things it matters.

      Remember the study is one thing, the journalists skew won it to get clicks so they can have a job sitting on their ass is another thing. Often the conclusions from the data are just journalists armchair science meant to get us to click.

      • Wade Fralic on

        Aren’t you now arguing against your own earlier opinion? The studies that show 49% of the population are below average in intelligence? I mean just because someone does a study doesn’t mean anyone thinks it matters. Often conclusions from the data are just armchair science…

        • I think you missed the whole point with that statement. 49%, just under half of all people, are below average in intelligence. And just under half are above average. Because that’s how averages work.

    • Exactly. The whole attractiveness factor is not relevant to a discussion about self worth. It’s like this article is pushing the idea that being unattractive discredits one’s self worth. Another words, they are, as a result of being unattractive, some how then ridiculous for being narcissistic or at least a proficient selfie taker. The connections being made are very immature and simpleton.

  9. Doesn’t this sample size seem curiously small? 198 college students from which country? Is it in a college in the US, Europe, Asia? Are there any factors taken into consideration for culture? What’s the confidence interval? Hell we don’t know any of this because the article doesn’t specify and the rest of it is behind a paywall.

    Frankly, this seems like a blog spewing junk science based on an excerpt of a publication.

      • The fact that fact-checkers typically don’t fact-check Facebook facts is a known fact. So the fact remains that facts, whether true or false, are still facts.

    • 99% of articles don’t contain the critical information and yet most people only respond to the headline and could care less. Kinda like a population that only cares about politics once every 4 years and get upset or surprised when things are messed up.

  10. James Ferlong on

    The problem is that 49% of people are below average intelligence, so regardless of reality they will say whatever they want. Attractive or not, that is a matter of perspective not certainly. While some features tend to always be in demand, others are not. Paris Hilton would be hot by 80s standards, by today’s standards she is average if not weird looking.

    I think the real study would show that people all overestimate how attractive they are. The more you use a mirror or direct on picture the more you will over judge your attractiveness. It has a lot to do with your brain and pattern recognition, but it’s also about avoiding your profile.

    Try it out.. look at yourself from the side and I bet you will not like what you see nearly as much as face on. Almost nobody looks better from the profile shot vs face on where your brain gets FULL ON facial lock.. including the ever important eyes.

    The phenomenon is well known and has NOTHING to do with selfies or even how often you take them. Almost all people see themselves are more attractive than they are, especially when viewed from the selfie/mirror perspective.

    That all being said, you are 100 times better off thinking you are more attractive than not having confidence. You are FAR better being overconfidence, especially in today’s world of high marketability. There is no upside to being humble and there never really was. This is being humans are the greatest resource on earth and mastering communication is a form of controlling that resource. It’s just about impossible to truly be humble and also be very expressive of your views.

    Humble people almost never rise to power. So.. I see no problem here. If taking selfies makes people feel attractive then they should take more selfies and pile on the filters. That kind of cheap high is slight denial well spent.

  11. FreeSteamKeys on

    People who take selfies tend to procrastinate more too. By the way, anyone suffering from procrastination, I highly recommend applying procrastination bulldozer method. Really helped me turn my life around. Never been so productive.

    • Eddie Webguy on

      Wow! That’s great Steam Keys, where can I find out more about that amazing product.

      • Highlight the words “procrastination bulldozer method”, then select “search google for procrastination bulldozer method”

  12. I don’t think a person’s attractiveness should be a factor in whether they’re more or less narcissistic. Either someone is or isn’t regardless of their actual attractiveness. Being attractive doesn’t grant you permission to be narcissistic, nor does being unattractive take away your right to be narcissistic.

    • Spanner O'Tool on

      What are you talking about? How you look shapes how you interact with other people. Its not the only factor in personality development, but it definitely plays a role. For example, how likely is it that someone will become a somatic narcissist without positive reinforcement from society that they are in fact attractive.

      I’m not sure it even makes sense to talk about whether or not someone is entitled to have a certain personality… Personality probably isn’t a choice but primarily a function of your biopsychosocial development.

      • I’m not the only one talking about, since like, the article talks about it. I’m talking about it because the article is talking about it.

      • The whole attractiveness factor is not relevant to a discussion about self worth. It’s like this article is pushing the idea that being unattractive discredits one’s self worth. Another words, they are, as a result of being unattractive, some how then ridiculous for being narcissistic or at least a proficient selfie taker. The connections being made are very immature and simpleton.

        • Spanner O'Tool on

          You’re just plain wrong. Attractiveness is a relevant factor in self-worth. You may wish to argue that it *shouldn’t* be, but it is. Once again, it’s not the only factor in determining self-worth but is certainly relevant.

          Secondly, I wasn’t even talking about self-worth, I was questioning your assertion that attractiveness doesn’t play a role in the development of a narcacisstic personality- which again is plain wrong.

          I agree that the article is total rubbish, but you appear to have misunderstood it. I don’t believe that this article suggests that being unattractive discredits one’s self worth. At most, the author provides the view that taking more selfies may lead to a tendency to overestimate ones own level of attractiveness in selfies.

          • Spanner O'Tool on

            You can’t explain why I’m wrong or even argue on point, and so you resort to insulting me. If you want to talk about basic…

          • Your very first reply was false. How someone looks does not shape how they interact with people. You’re just wrong. That’s a basic world view. It’s not an opinion of mine, it’s an observed reality. Seriously, go out anywhere in public where there’s a mix of attractive and unattractive people and they’re all getting on just fine. Maybe in dumb TV shows your point is valid, but in real life people just get on. Maybe they don’t all get to fuck who they want but most people, MOST PEOPLE, get over that and find someone they CAN fuck. Other than fucking though, attractiveness doesn’t matter a damn bit in the real world, not TV world.

          • Absurd. There is too much evidence to suggest that attractiveness is a major factor in a person’s success through life and the attractiveness of people that surround them. Spanner never did mention self-worth by the way and your digression on who gets to fuck who is a needless distraction which does not help whatever point I thought you were trying to make. None of what you said is a consensus of our shared observed reality, and your perception is not evidence to the contrary. Attractive people are shown to earn more, are promoted quicker, have equally attractive partners and friends, and the symmetry of their face as well as the size of their head and expressive correlate highly with their being more likely chosen for film and television. There is so much evidence of this I have no reason to cite sources but will if you’re actually interested, but I guess you’re not since everything you’ve said so far is erroneous ancedote.

      • I know of a few folks that the greater half of the general public would consider to be very attractive. They all have below average self esteem and fear putting up an image of themselves as their profile picture isn’t going to do themselves any favors. Some attractive people are shy and introverted. A trait that I find makes them even more desirable.

  13. I’m beginning to think Comment sections may be more useful for ‘studies’ than these waste of time and money studies. Most of the time the comment sections provide more insight than the actual article.

  14. It takes a very odd person to take photos of themselves just about every day, but the most idiotic would be taking the photos in front of the mirror where you can see the phone and or camera. Obviously they are cheap and unprofessionally done. Why not put it on a timer or get someone else to take it, or better yet……….get over yourselves