A massive 92 million selfies are taken every single day – and while there is still some derision over the practice from older generations, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be stopping anytime soon.
Especially as 82% of young people have taken a selfie – defined as a photo somebody takes of themselves, typically using a smartphone or webcam.
‘Selfie’ was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, but the term kicked off in popularity even before that, in 2010 when Apple introduced the front-facing camera on its iPhone 4.
Why do we take them, though? Are younger generations just more self-obsessed? Is it a public display of vanity? Well, according to new research, that’s not always the case.
Building a self-narrative
People who depict themselves in scenes by taking selfies do so to capture the “deeper meaning” of the event, according to researchers in Germany.
Their study also confirms that when people use first-person photography to take a photo of a scene from their own perspective – for example, taking a photo of a beautiful sunset on holiday – it’s because they want to “document a physical experience”.
Lead author Zachary Niese, formerly of Ohio State University in the US and now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Tübingen in Germany, believes selfies can help us to connect more deeply with our lives, suggesting “personal photos have the potential to help people reconnect to their past experiences and build their self-narratives”.
The study consisted of six experiments on 2,113 participants. In one of them, participants were asked to examine their own photos posted to their personal Instagram accounts.
They were then asked to open their most recent post on Instagram and were asked if they were trying to capture the bigger meaning or the physical experience of the moment.
Professor Lisa Libby, an expert in psychology at Ohio State University, said: “We found that people didn’t like their photo as much if there was a mismatch between the photo perspective and their goal in taking the photo.”
For example, the research says that if the participant’s goal was to capture the meaning of the moment, they liked the photo more if it was taken in third-person (aka a selfie, or taken by someone else) with themselves in the image.
Dr Niese said ”this work suggests people have very personal motives for taking photos”.
Another study of selfies suggested taking them might be more about fulfilling needs, like popularity and self-expression, “in a way that feels good for people, does not reveal too much about deeper motivations and allows them to keep a positive self-view and image to others”.
If you take selfies because you just like your face, we love that! Good for you. According to the New South Wales Department of Education, selfies can help young people develop confidence and self-identity.