The psychology behind selfies

The motivation behind the latest photo-taking trend

Someone taking a selfie.

In the modern world of social media, selfies are seen and taken on a daily basis. The word selfie was even added to the Oxford English online dictionary in 2014. Most people have discovered the perfect angle at which to hold their phone in order to take their best selfie. This is a very popular trend with millennials and we often get judged for it, but what are the reasons behind why we post them?

In the world of psychology, there have been few studies focused on selfies. Recently, a study by psychologists at Florida State University proposed that the angle at which you take a selfie actually has to do with evolution, and specifically the ideas of intersexual attraction and intrasexual competition.

In this study, it was argued when taking a selfie, people will often manipulate the angle at which the photo is being taken depending on their target audience. The psychologists involved made predictions prior to the survey, anticipating when men took a selfie, they’d either take them from a straight-on angle or from below. The predictions foresaw a straight-on selfie would be taken by males when trying to attract someone romantically because it would symbolize supportiveness. Alternatively, they were deemed more likely to take a selfie from below when their target audience is other men, in an attempt to make them seem taller and stronger.

Similarly, the study predicted that the majority of women would also manipulate the angle of the camera depending on the target audience, however they were more likely to take selfies from a straight-on angle or from above. Taking a selfie straight-on is common for females when the target audience is other women because it symbolizes supportiveness. On the other hand, taking a selfie from an above angle is typical when the goal is to attract a potential partner because it is thought to make them look more attractive. 

While this study vastly differentiates behaviour between men and women, this isn’t all that uncommon in psychological studies or biological analyses. At the end of the day, women and men are different in motivations.

Following these predictions phrasing, data was collected from a state college campus and the study’s results were published this year by Association for Psychological Science.

Researchers went to a college campus and asked 131 females students and 126 males students to take a selfie. Half of the members from each group were told their picture would be seen by members of the opposite sex, and half were told it would be seen by members of the same sex. The results went as predicted.

But does this mean we’re necessarily influenced by the angle of a selfie we scroll past on Facebook? The researchers examined this question by showing selfies from a different group of participants – 85 males and 62 females – and asking them to rate them based on several characteristics, including attractiveness.

Yet again, their predictions were supported. Participants rated men as seeming taller and more attractive when the picture was taken from below and women were rated as looking younger and more attractive when the photo was taken from above.

Even in the modern age of gender equality, these ideas of intersexual attraction and intrasexual competition are still present and still influence our behaviours. Men and women are different and that’s okay, so whether you use this information to try and attract a potential partner or use it as a way to challenge gender stereotypes, remember that life is too short to not post the selfie. 


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