August 31 2017

Do Selfies Make Us Feel More Attractive & Likable Than We Really Are? By Lauren Au

Recent study proves that those who regularly take selfies overestimate their attractiveness and likability compared to others.

Summary: In our social media dominated world, the selfie trend has taken over and affected our perception of ourselves. New findings suggest that those who take more selfies overestimate positive perceptions of themselves, such as attractiveness and likability. In other words, do selfies make us feel more attractive and likeable than we really are?  These findings might make selfie takers think twice about the number and type of selfies they post and the impact it has on their image and actual perception of themselves.

According to this study, people exhibit “meta-accuracy” or accurate perceptions of how others view oneself. However the study also states that, “people do possess ‘blind spots’ of traits that others perceive accurately but one does not.” In particular, people tend to overestimate their positive traits. This is also known as “self-favoring bias”, which the study says, “leads people to typically perceive themselves as possessing more desirable traits and fewer undesirable traits than they believe other people do.”

Researchers believe that the “selfie” (photographs that one takes of oneself) is a, “contemporary context in which self-favoring biases may be particularly salient” because these photos allow a person to control and maximize their perceived attractiveness. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all encouraged this selfie trend. With a variety of editing tools and filters, people are now more than ever able to alter their pictures to increase one’s favorable features. This can then lead people to believe they are a lot more attractive and likable than they actually are to others, thus creating a self-favoring bias. Ironically, even though selfie-takers attempt to create and communicate a better impression of themselves to others, this study shows that they may actually unintentionally communicate negative perceptions to others such as narcissism. Researchers also found that different groups of people, regular “selfie-takers” versus “non-selfie-takers”, and different types of photos, selfies versus a photo taken by another person, affected a person’s self-favoring bias.

This study called, “Selfie Indulgence: Self-Favoring Biases in Perceptions of Selfies” was published by SAGE Journals under the Social Psychological and Personality Science section. Researchers found that selfies create self-favoring biases and influence the way people use and communicate through social media.

In this study, 198 undergraduate students called “targets” were subdivided into “selfie-takers” and “non-selfie-takers.” A separate group of 178 participants were identified as “raters.” “Selfie-takers” were those who reported regularly taking selfies with an average of 4.90 selfies in the previous week and “non-selfie-takers” were those who reported little or no selfie-taking with an average of 0.37 selfies in the previous week. Each “target” participant then took two pictures, an individual selfie photo and an experimenter-taken photo (a photo taken by a researcher). Both “targets” and “raters” then judged the attractiveness and likability of these selfies and experimenter-taken photos for both the “selfie-takers” and “non-selfie-takers”.  

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After analyzing the ratings of these photos, researchers found that, “selfie-takers” believed their selfies were more attractive and likable than their experimenter-taken photo. However, “non-selfie-takers” showed no significant difference in ratings of their selfie versus experimenter-taken photos. This shows that “selfie-takers” compared to “non-selfie-takers” over evaluate their selfies and proves that different groups of people may have different levels of self-favoring bias.

Other results showed that the “raters” judged selfies to be less attractive, less likable, and more narcissistic than experimenter-taken photos. Moreover, when rating their own photos, “selfie-takers” displayed self-favoring biases (i.e. believed they were more attractive and likable) for their selfie photos but not for their experimenter-taken photos. This suggest that self-favoring bias is domain-specific, where a person can develop a different level of self-favoring bias depending on what domain a picture is taken on.  

Overall, when testing the differences in ratings of “targets’” self-ratings versus the “raters’” external ratings, “raters” judged “selfie-takers” photos as less attractive and likable than “targets” judged the same photo of themselves. Therefore, rather than being perceived positively by others, “selfie-takers” display self-favoring biases and may actually be perceived more negatively as a result of their selfies.

These key findings suggest that those who regularly take selfies develop a self-favoring bias and believe their selfies to be more positively perceived by others than they really are. In reality, selfies and “selfie-takers” may actually be more negatively viewed by others.

This is a relevant topic in society today during the current popularity and boom of social media. There are a few implications of this study.

1) It can impact the way people use and present themselves on social media.

2) It can provide insight into what is communicated and perceived through social media.

3) It may provide insight into mental or social issues that may develop as a result of the social media age we are all currently a part of.

More information and research on this topic can influence the way people use social media as well as provide more knowledge on how people perceive themselves and what is communicated through social media.  Individuals, especially social media users, can also uses these finding to influence their actions when trying to create positive impressions of themselves.

The study gives advice to readers, stating, “Users may wish to exercise caution in selfie-posting, as their selfies may not be evaluated as positively as they expect… and greater understanding of self-favoring biases and meta-accuracy in selfie perception may provide critical information to the majority of the population that indulges in selfie-taking.”

Journal Reference:
Daniel E. Re, Sylvia A. Wang, Joyce C. He, and Nicholas O. Rule. “Selfie indulgence: Self-favoring biases in perceptions of selfies.” Social Psychological and Personality Science (SAGE), 2016; 7(6) 588-596. DOI: 10.1177/1948550616644299

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