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The Link Between Selfies and Self-Delusion

New research finds selfie-takers believe — inaccurately — they look especially appealing in their photographic self-portraits.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: R4vi/Flickr)

Post any selfies lately? If so, did you check out your adorable image and think to yourself, “Damn, I look good?”

Sorry, but you’re probably kidding yourself.

A newstudy finds that participants who habitually take selfies perceived themselves as “more attractive and likable in their selfies than in others’ photos.” Outside judges came to the opposite conclusion.

For those who regularly take them, selfies apparently “produce the photographic equivalent of a meta-perceptual blind spot,” writes a research team led by University of Toronto psychologists Daniel Re and Nicholas Rule. The researchers’ study is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The study featured 198 undergraduates: One hundred people who regularly took selfies, and 98 who did so seldom if ever. Each participant was separately escorted into a laboratory room for the experiment.

“Selfie-takers believed their selfies to look more attractive and likable than photos of them taken by other people.”

First, he or she was handed a smartphone and instructed to take a selfie, “the kind you would usually post on social media sites.” Once they did so, the experimenter took a photo of the person using the same phone. Participants were asked to imagine they were posing for a photo taken by a friend, which would later be posted online.

Each participant rated how attractive and likable they came across in each of the two photos (a one-to-seven scale). They then estimated how many selfies they took over the past week, and how many they posted on social media.

Later, 178 people recruited online rated the photos for both attractiveness and likability (using the same seven-point scale). They also noted the degree to which the person pictured came across as narcissistic.

“Selfie-takers generally over-perceived the positive attributes purveyed by their selfies,” the researchers report. “We found that selfie-takers believed their selfies to look more attractive and likable than photos of them taken by other people.”

“In reality, though, external raters actually perceived the targets’ selfies to look less attractive and less likable than the photos taken by others,” they add. This bias was not found for participants who seldom if ever posted selfies.

The researchers consider this a new manifestation of a time-honored tendency: the penchant for people to “overvalue their positive traits.” They suspect this is magnified in the case of selfies, since a positive evaluation implies both appreciation for one’s looks and “a positive impression of one’s skills as a photographer.”

Surprisingly, selfie-takers and non-selfie takers did not differ in terms of self-reported narcissism. But study participants were seen by the outside raters as more narcissistic when the image in question was a selfie.

So while you look at that smiling self-portrait and see a combination of George Clooney and Ansel Adams, the image you’re presenting to the world may be closer to a cross between Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen.

You have been warned.