New research published in Psychology of Popular Media casts doubt on the link between taking selfies and narcissism. The study found that college students who scored low on a measure of narcissism tended to post just as many selfies as those who scored high.
“I am interested in studying selfies and their links to psychological functioning because they have become a central feature in our society, but research has lagged behind in trying to understand why people take them and what functions they might serve,” said study author Erin A. Koterba, an associate professor at the University of Tampa.
The study of 276 college students found that there was no significant difference between how many selfies those high in narcissism and those low in narcissism reported taking over the past week. Narcissism did, however, appear to influence the type of selfie being taken. Students high in narcissism were more likely to take selfies that featured only themselves.
While many students offered narcissistic reasons for posting selfies, the researchers also found that the desire to share and connect with others was a frequent motivation. Many students also said that posting selfies was part of their job (for instance, as a sponsored athlete) or was used to boost their self-esteem.
“People tend to take selfies frequently, and lots of different people take them. Some have suggested that people who take selfies might be more narcissistic, but our research suggests that’s not necessarily the whole story,” Koterba told PsyPost.
“When people don’t score high on tests for narcissism, they still take selfies. Interestingly, even those people are likely to list narcissistic motives for taking selfies when asked (e.g., ‘I take selfies because I want to show off how I look’ sounds pretty narcissistic). My interpretation is that selfies are simply a new cultural phenomenon, and that they may be a mechanism to facilitate self-exploration. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad or maladaptive way to focus on the self.”
“We also found important differences between how females and males take selfies, as females are much more likely to take selfies as part of a group rather than alone (and men were more likely to take them alone). We believe this most likely reflects deeply ingrained gender roles,” Koterba said.
The study, like all research, includes some limitations.
“Portions of this project were exploratory in nature, including the investigations of individuals’ motives for taking selfies. As such, I’d say that aspect needs particular follow-up attention. Further unpacking the gender differences mentioned above would also be an important line of study to pursue,” Koterba said.
The study, “‘Get out of My Selfie!’ Narcissism, Gender, and Motives for Self-Photography Among Emerging Adults“, was authored by Erin A. Koterba, Faith Ponti, and Kaitlyn Ligman.