PULLMAN, Wash. — The “selfie” has become absolutely synonymous with Instagram, but a new study conducted at Washington State University finds that people who post lots of selfies are generally looked at in a negative light by others. According to researchers, frequent selfie-takers are almost universally viewed as less likable, less successful, more insecure, and less open to new experiences than those who typically share photos of themselves taken by other people.
“Even when two feeds had similar content, such as depictions of achievement or travel, feelings about the person who posted selfies were negative and feelings about the person who posted posies were positive,” says lead author and WSU professor of psychology Chris Barry in a media release. “It shows there are certain visual cues, independent of context, that elicit either a positive or negative response on social media.”
Before starting this study, Barry had previously conducted research aimed at establishing a link between taking selfies and narcissism, but the results were inconclusive.
“We just weren’t finding anything,” Barry says. “That got us thinking that while posts on social media might not be indicative of the poster’s personality, other people might think they are. So, we decided to design another study to investigate.”
Researchers analyzed data from two separate groups of college students for this study. The first group consisted of 30 undergraduates from a public university in the southern United States. Participants completed a personality questionnaire and gave researchers permission to analyze their 30 most recent Instagram posts. Each post was identified by researchers as either selfies or “posies” (posed photos taken by someone else). Additional post characteristics, such as physical appearances, affiliation with others, locations, etc, were also noted.
The second student group consisted of 119 undergraduates from a university in the northwestern United States. This group was tasked with rating the Instagram profiles and photos of the first student group based on 13 attributes, such as self-absorption, low self-esteem, success, and extraversion.
Researchers then analyzed the data collected from both groups, and searched for visual cues in the first set of participants’ Instagram photos that consistently elicited similar personality ratings from the second group.
They found that Instagram users who posted more posies than selfies were considered more adventurous, more outgoing, less lonely, more dependable, more successful, more self-confident, and better potential friends. On the other hand, accounts that posted more selfies were viewed in the opposite light; overwhelmingly negative.
Selfies that included an emphasis on physical appearance, such as a selfie taken while flexing in front of the mirror, were seen particularly negative and obnoxious, according to the researchers’ findings. It is also interesting to note that the Instagram accounts rated highest in terms of self absorption tended to boast the highest numbers of followers.
Additionally, the study’s authors noticed that the older the participant in the second group, the more likely they were to rate any Instagram profile poorly. This indicates that many young adults may be gradually souring on Instagram as they grow and mature.
“While there may be a variety of motives behind why people post self‑images to Instagram, how those photos are perceived appears to follow a more consistent pattern,” Barry says. “While the findings of this study are just a small piece of the puzzle, they may be important to keep in mind before you make that next post.”
The study is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.