Today, in unsurprising but interesting psych news: Selfie culture is riddled with bias. In a new study from Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, most participants said they take and post selfies, but that they prefer to see non-selfie photos from other people on social media. "Nobody seems to like selfies," researchers wrote, "yet everyone has reasons to take them." Paradoxical indeed.
For the study, 238 adults from Austria, Germany and Switzerland filled out surveys on their selfie habits and attitudes. Specifically, they answered questions about how often they take selfies, how they feel when they're doing it and how they feel about their selfies vs. other people's. Across the board, most participants admitted to taking selfies, despite offering a critical view of the practice. They tended to see their own selfies as ironic or authentic, but dismissed other selfies as narcissistic.
"Taking peoples’ statements literally," researchers wrote, "selfies should have never become as popular as they actually are." (Just how popular are they? Well, in 2014, Google statistics estimated that Android users alone took 93 billion selfies a day.)
Researchers also identified self-presentation strategies used by people who (respectively) love and loathe selfies. Your self-presentation strategy describes the way you go about controlling the impressions other people form of you. The most passionate selfie-takers, researchers found, habitually used two presentation strategies: self-promotion and self-disclosure.
Self-promoting types might post photos of themselves Soul-Cycling in crop tops. Self-disclosure is favored by people who want you to know they woke up feeling contemplative, or that it's a "top-knot kind of day." They're more interested in connecting with people, and starting dialogues, than showing off.
Of course, not everyone likes mugging for a phone held by their own, outstretched arm. Selfie naysayers, researchers found, were most likely to use an "understatement" strategy. In other words, they prefer to show you they're modest by keeping their duck faces off your facebook feed.
Overall, selfies emerged as a "complex and somewhat conflicting practice," researchers wrote, "with less general agreement than the wide dissemination of selfies in social media may suggest." Researchers proposed two explanations for this selfie paradox: It's possible, they said, that people take selfies because they feel socially obligated to follow norms. If this is the case, researchers surmised, then it's time to let people know they can stop taking selfies and still fit in. Alternatively, people might downplay how much they enjoy using selfies to control their image. If so, the observed selfie bias serves a psychological purpose, in letting people act narcissistically without feeling like narcissists.
But, among other limitations, researchers said it's not clear whether or not people are aware of their bias: Are they just too ashamed to admit why they're posting yet another photo of themselves sprinkling chili flakes on avocado toast, or do they really think they're more authentic than everyone else broadcasting their breakfast?