Narcissism and Selfie Culture

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Many experiments have been conducted on the various facets of the relationship between narcissism and selfies. However, some questions of this topic remained answered such as to how does a simple self-photography lead to an increase of narcissism and what factors persuade an individual to post a selfie. Narcissism is characterized by a grandiose self-presentation that is motivated by the need to regulate self-esteem (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).

The activities of social media involves the use of sharing posts through self-presentations and receiving feedback from others. Previous studies have shown that narcissistic individuals desire to have a larger group of audience on social media. This allows these individuals to acquire an increase desire for the need for admiration and the need to belong amongst others.

Social media platforms allow narcissists the benefit of being able to control who their audience may be. Thus, the content being presented to their followers and feedback received from others hold an immense significance. Narcissists are confined to creating a positive self-image increasing the frequency of activities throughout their social media platforms. These activities may include the number of selfies posted on social media, the amount of time an individual spends editing photos of themselves (Fox & Rooney, 2015), as well as the selection of specific profile pictures that highlight one’s physical attractiveness or personality (Kapidzic, 2013).

Literature Review

The current study focused on the relation of narcissism and self-esteem associated with the postings of “”selfies”” (Barry, Doucette, Loflin, & Herrington, 2015). The research by Barry et al. (2015) hypothesized that the frequencies of selfies posted were positively correlated with the dimensions of narcissism as well as self-esteem. Theories presented by other researchers have presented that those who posted a high number of selfies were deemed to be narcissistic or attention-seeking. Others have argued that selfies were a form of self-exploration – allowing individuals to be themselves and leading to a boost in self-esteem.

Barry et al. (2015) characterized narcissism by the tendency of self-presentation and the feeling superiority of others. Self-esteem can be defined as the one’s positive and negative evaluation of themselves. The primary focus researchers sought to address was the positive relationship of narcissism and self-esteem with the posting of selfies. Researchers explored the many themes of selfies – physical appearance, activity, events, etc.

Researchers conducted a study involving 128 undergraduate students from a university in southeastern United States. The study included 19 males and 109 females whose age ranged from 18 to 43. Of the participants, 77 identified themselves as white/Caucasian, 45 identified as Black/African American, 3 identified themselves as Asians, and 2 Hispanics. These participants were required to have an active social media platform. The measures used by researchers included the Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI) and the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI).

The PNI consisted of 52 items with a 6-point scale and the NPI consisted of 40 forced questions that assessed nonpathological narcissism where the participants chose one of two statements. Researchers also used the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale to assess participants self-esteem using a 10-item scale where participants were asked if they agree or disagree with the given statements. The study also consisted of participants having their Instagram observed for 30 days. The recorders recorded the number of weeks since the participant’s first post, the overall number of photographs since the first post, the number of selfies taken as well the as the number of follower count each participant had.

The results indicated that posting selfies of oneself was a common occurrence amongst many of the participants. Also, there was a lack of correlation between self-reported narcissism and self-esteem with the postings of selfies. The researchers concluded that 98.4% of the participants posted selfies and the frequency of selfies correlated to the size of one’s Instagram audience, indicating a higher need for posting more selfies.

Researchers also concluded that those who didn’t post selfies frequently, had a fragile self-esteem because of the fear of the lack of positive comments. However, there was a positive correlation of posting selfie collages with nonpathological narcissism – the way an individual maintains their stability of their sense of self. This finding suggested that those who posted a high number of collages have the tendency to share multiple images of themselves as well as a positive self-image.

In further support of this finding, Halpern, Valenzuela, & Katz (2016) examined whether narcissists take selfies as an outlet for maintaining their positive self-views or if by taking selfies would increase their level of narcissism. Researchers hypothesized that narcissistic individuals take more selfies over time which leads to an increase of narcissism. Researchers conducted a two-wave panel survey which were one year apart. The study consisted of 3 variables – age, gender, and geography. A response of 1225 participants were given through a survey and a year later 500 participants were randomly selected to complete a follow-up survey where 314 participants completed both questionnaires.

The results indicated that those with a high self-esteem produced more selfies which led to increases of levels of narcissism. This means that individuals who engage in narcissistic behavior feel rewarded by sharing their own images with others users. The limitations of this study consists of that the measures were all self-reports and factors such as social desirability such as mood and memory can influence the results. Further limitations also include the analysis of only one character trait without controlling for other psychological variables that might be related such as self-esteem. The sample size was also small which researchers may not be able to generalize their findings.

To further expand on this topic of interest, research conducted by McCain, Borg, Rothenberg, Churillo, & Weiler (2016), emphasized the relationship between narcissism (vulnerable and grandiose narcissism) and the frequency and motivations behind selfies. Researchers hypothesized that there will be a positive correlation between different levels of narcissism and the posting of selfies.

Two studies were conducted – in study 1, 348 adults completed measures of personality, demographics, and several questions about selfie behavior online and in study 2, 491 undergraduate students completed the same measures but a subset of the participants provided access to their Instagram and icono-square accounts. Researchers examined the selfie context, selfie motivations, as well as selfie emotions. Researchers assessed these factors through NPI, a measure of Dark triad traits, RSES, and the hypersensitive narcissism scale.

The results indicated that grandiose narcissism was associated with posting more selfies in which participants experienced a positive affect when taking selfies. However, vulnerable narcissism was associated with negative affect when taking selfies. Self-esteem was a factor that did not show a strong pattern of associations with selfies (McCain et al., 2016). Limitations of this study consists of the use of a large sample. Collecting data would be more difficult than self-report data. This research was also correlational based.

Furthermore, researchers, Qui, Lu, Yang, & Qu (2015) aimed to answer how individuals selfies reflect their personality traits and how people judge others personality from selfies. Researchers examined the association between selfies and personality by measuring participants Big Five personality. The researchers hypothesized that individuals selfies will reflect their personality traits. The study was conducted in a two part online survey where the first part included a 44-item Big Five personality inventory and the second portion asked participants about social media usage frequency and demographic location.

The selfies collected were observed by 8 research assistants. The results indicated that there was a correlation between self-report and aggregated observers ratings on openness. This suggested that observers were able to predict openness based on selfies. Researchers applied the lens model to identify the cues that reflected selfie owners personality traits. The results also indicated that the researchers identified number of personality related cues such as the duckface which in this case indicated neuroticism.

This study was the first to reveal personality related cues in selfies. Further research of this can be conducted through the use of computer programs in order to detect the duckface for example to help predict neuroticism. One limitation of the study includes the use of photos from a microblogging website. This minimizes the amount of results obtained because of the fact that other social networking sites have different user characteristics and usage patterns.

As previous studies emphasized the narcissistic characteristics of taking selfies, research conducted by Shin, Kim, & Chong (2017) have addressed the question of what the effects of those who took selfies were. The researchers hypothesized that self-concept of the individuals who take and share selfies could be affected by their online activities. Researchers focused on two psychological factors: social sensitivity and self-esteem.

In the experiment, the researchers manipulated the context of experiencing selfies. The participants were asked to take a picture of a self-portrait or a cup, using their own smartphone. Then, they were instructed to either post it on social media or save it on their smartphone. The participants’ social sensitivity was assessed by measuring their reaction time (RT) to a social probe, and self-esteem was evaluated by measuring the size of their signatures. Researchers found that participants’ RT to a social probe decreased and the size of their signature decreased, after they took and shared their selfie.

These results suggest that taking and sharing selfies could result in greater social sensitivity and lower self-esteem of selfie takers. Limitations of this study include that the impacts of the selfie should be investigated further over a longitudinal period. Other limitations include that participants were asked to take and share a selfie involuntarily not for their individual purpose in the experiment. This can manipulate any findings because the meanings of the photo can be different from the real context. Participants could have also had their own tendency in social style or gender differences before participation.

To follow up on the previous mentioned study, a group of researchers examined the effects of posting selfies on online social networking sites (Sorokowska, Frackowiak, & Pisanski, 2016). Researchers here hypothesized that taking selfies on various social media platforms is positively related to social exhibitionism, extraversion, and self-esteem. The study involved two studies consisting a total of 1296 men and women.

Participants reported posting between 0 to 650 selfies per month. The participants completed the following three questionnaires – The Self-esteem Rosenberg scale, Extraversion scale of the NEO-Five Factory Inventory and The Murray Social Exhibitionism. Researchers examined 3 categories of selfies, own selfies, selfies with a romantic partner, and group selfies. The results indicated that women posted more selfies of each type than did men. Regardless of sex, social exhibitionism and extraversion generally predicted the frequency of online selfie-posting in men and women, however we found no strong evidence for a relationship between self-esteem and selfie-posting behavior among women, and only weak evidence among men.

The results of this work highlight key individual differences among OSN users that can account for some of the variation in online photo sharing behavior. Results also indicated that people who demonstrate high exhibitionism typically enjoy attracting attention to themselves, talking about themselves, and often engage in self-disclosure. Exhibitionist tendencies are triggered by the presence of an audience.

This study as mentioned by the researchers was the first to investigate the social phenomenon of posting selfies to various online social networking sites. Limitations of this study include the not incorporation a broader set of personality variables. This can help extend the understanding of individual differences associated with selfie posting. Researchers can examine the relationships between selfie posting and the Big Five personality traits. Another limitation of this study is that participants may confine to posting selfies on other social networking sites outside of Facebook.

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Narcissism and Selfie Culture. (2019, Nov 19). Retrieved from

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