A very rapid search of Google Scholar shows a plethora of articles about selfies over the last 10 years. They vary widely in approach and thoughts, from articles that are mainly about the presumed patho-psychology of the selfie taker to those that take a diametrically opposite stance, describing it as a healthy or understandable occupation. There is even at least one higher education level course exploring the whole concept, linked with various exercises, a Flickr page and much related discussion. (Selfieresearchers.com,2014)
One study by Sung of Korean young people found that there were four main reasons for posting selfies on social media ‘attention seeking, communication, archiving, and entertainment. Of particular interest to the psychological mechanism of selfies is the motivation of “attention seeking.” ……. Among the various means of publicly posting self-information on SNSs, such as personal profiles, status updates, and wall posts, selfies in particular emphasize key features of one’s self by displaying optimized, desirable self-image with the intention of seeking admiration from others. Given that selfies showcase one’s interests and values, positive reactions and feedback received from social connections on SNSs (e.g., “likes” or “shares”) may act as testaments to the close relationships and social validation central to one’s self-worth, that is, self-affirmation’ and also that there was a significant amount of narcissistic behaviour and that ‘Narcissists tend to post their selfies more frequently and show greater intention to post than their counterparts. Additionally, higher levels of narcissism were associated with stronger attention-seeking motivation in terms of selfie behaviour.’ (Sung et al., 2016). This study is clearly limited as it concentrates on one group of people without any ethnic diversity but does demonstrate the trend of academic research.
A further study by Dhir looked at age and gender so the most prolific selfie posters are adolescents, and the least likely are older adults. (Dhir et al., 2016) and yet another study by Baiocco showed differences in gender, with females and non-heterosexual people more likely to post than heterosexual males. (Baiocco et al.,2017).
These studies, while academically interesting, do not explain the current prevalence of selfie taking and posting. Most of the studies seem to imply a negative correlation between selfie posting and positive personality traits and suggest that it is the need for self-validation in the current era that explains it. This seems a somewhat unbalanced approach given that it is such a common part of youth and young adult culture, and it seems unlikely that all people in these age groups are strongly narcissistic!
In an interesting (and lengthy) study by Diefenbach and Christoforakos they point out that in spite of the preponderance of selfies on social media there is an overall critical attitude towards them, leading to a paradox – why, if no-one likes selfies are so many taken? Is it a ‘social obligation’ or do people actually enjoy it but not admit this? Are the present showy selfie poses mainly ironical, and does this drive the posting of ever more narcissistic poses? (Diefenbach and Christforakos, 2017).
Baiocco, R., Chirumbolo, A., Bianchi, D., Ioverno, S., Morelli, M. and Nappa, M. (2017). How HEXACO Personality Traits Predict Different Selfie Posting Behaviours Among Adolescents and Young Adults. Frontiers inPsychology, 7.
Dhir, A., Pallesen, S., Torsheim, T. and Andreassen, C. (2016). Do age and gender differences exist in selfie-related behaviours?. Computers in Human Behavior, [online] 63, pp.549-555. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.053 [Accessed 3 Sep. 2017].
Diefenbach, S. and Christoforakos, L. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. An Exploration of Psychological Functions of Selfies in Self-Presentation. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 08. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00007 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2017].
Selfieresearchers.com. (2014). Introduction and Guidelines. [online] Available at: http://www.selfieresearchers.com/introduction-and-guidelines/ [Accessed 3 Sep. 2017].
Sung, Y., Lee, J., Kim, E. and Choi, S. (2016). Why we post selfies: Understanding motivations for posting pictures of oneself. Personality and Individual Differences, [online] 97, pp.260-265. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.03.032 [Accessed 3 Sep. 2017].