The psychology of the #selfie

Feb 11, 2014


Photographers take selfies from the top of the US Capitol dome during a tour of the dome December 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. ; Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

From the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year to the Selfie Olympics, it’s clear that smart-phone  and digital camera self-portraits—or ‘selfies’—are something of a cultural touchstone. We’ve seen selfies at funerals, presidential selfies—even a selfie from space.

These informal, intimate shots are filling up social media feeds, particularly those of young people. They’re also raising some concerns about a self-obsessed, attention-seeking culture.  Thailand’s Department of Mental Health recently issued a warning about the potential negative impact of rampant ‘selfie culture’—claiming that young people are suffering from emotional problems when their uploaded selfies go underappreciated.

As with many tech trends, the merits of selfie-taking are hotly debated. Why do we take so many selfies? How might the slew of peace signs, shirtless fitness shots, duck face, and dirty mirrors be impacting our culture? Does the popularity of posting instant self-portraits and waiting for likes to pour in pose problems for the emotional health of the selfie-obsessed?

Do you take selfies? Do you gain anything from looking at someone else’s? Does the rise of ‘selfie culture’ reveal generational narcissism—or are we expressing ourselves and communicating more effectively through new technology?


Pamela Rutledge, PhD, Director, Media Psychology Resource Center, a non-profit dedicated to media research, assessment and education based in Newport Beach, Calif.; Adjunct Professor, Fielding Graduate University; Blogger, Psychology Today

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