When Interpreting Selfies, Motive Matters
On social media, most people post some type of selfies. But not all selfies are created equal. Some post only self-portraits, some "photo drop" (we will call this online name dropping) snapshots with important people. Others portray themselves as one of the "cool kids" by posting group shots, showcasing their impressive affiliations.
Some people post selfies of themselves first thing in the morning, with no makeup, au natural. Others edit heavily, adjusting color and lighting, and muting flaws. What does it all mean?
First of all, posting on Facebook does not make you a narcissist. That title is earned through what you post. What do you want others to know about you? That you have finished a marathon, finished your taxes, or finished dinner?
Or, are your posts other-focused, celebrating accomplishments, providing encouragement, and promoting worthy causes?
When judging someone through social media presence, as with interpreting other social behavior, motive matters.
Men Post Selfies Too
P. Sorokowski et al. (2015) authored a study that discovered what the title implies, "Selfie Posting Behaviors are Associated With Narcissism Among Men." They tested a sample of 1296 individuals, scoring them on narcissism sub scales of Self-sufficiency, Vanity, Leadership, and Admiration Demand. They examined three types of selfies: selfies of oneself, with a group, and with a romantic partner.
They discovered that although women posted more of all three types than men, their selfie posting was unrelated to their narcissism score. With men, however, they found a positive correlation between narcissism and posting selfies of all three types. Specifically, men´s selfie posting correlated with their Vanity, Leadership, and Vanity Demand scores.
With women, Admiration Demand was the only subscale of narcissism the predicted posting of selfies — but only of oneself or with a romantic partier, not group selfies. With men, Admiration Demand most strongly predicted the number of selfies posted — although these tended to be group selfies. Men´s leadership scores predicted posting selfies with a romantic partner, or in a group.
Regarding the Vanity subscale, these scores correlated with the number of selfies women posted, but not men. P. Sorokowski et al. speculate that posting selfies might not be as socially acceptable for men as it is for women. They also note that for women, selfie-posting might fulfill their need to showcase an attractive image or group identification, which men might consider less important.
The authors note this could mean that men who post a large number of selfies might have a different psychological makeup than other men, which could include a higher level of vanity. They note that men with an average or low amount of vanity might not have the motivation to engage in frequent online self-presentation.
Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissists
Jessica L. McCain et al. (2016) examined the link between narcissism and selfies, as well as the motivation behind selfie-taking, and discovered some interesting results.
They examined two different types of narcissists. Grandiose narcissists, who are more charismatic, extraverted, and attention seeking, and vulnerable narcissists, who are more insecure and neurotic.
They found grandiose narcissism to be linked with taking and posting a greater number of selfies (especially ones with only themselves in the photo), feeling good while taking selfies, and motivated by self-presentation. They also found that grandiose narcissists had more online followers and more "likes." They did, however, note one drawback of grandiose narcissism—coming across as a narcissist.
McCain et al. found vulnerable narcissism to be linked with negative mood while taking selfies, consistent with the fact that vulnerable narcissism is linked to emotionality and vulnerability. They noted that vulnerable narcissism was not linked with likes or likability—suggesting it is not a trait well suited for display on social media.
Alter Ego: Altered Image
Apparently, at least when detecting narcissism, edits matter. Emily Lowe-Calverley and Rachel Grieve in "Self-ie Love: Predictors of Image Editing Intentions on Facebook" (2018) found narcissism to be a relevant predictor of the intention to post digitally altered images on the site. They note that previous research suggests that photo editing and related activity facilitates superficial behavior and self-promotion. They also speculate that narcissism may be becoming more common due to social media image editing.
On the other hand, some people need to edit photos to cover physical flaws or skin conditions. So we cannot jump to conclusions. And remember that many people promote themselves on social media merely because they are social. They want to put their best foot forward, to impress you.
This article was originally posted in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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