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Why Staring at Selfies Can Lower Your Self-Esteem

Unless they are group shots in which you are among the participants.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Jeremy Brooks/Flickr)

How do you typically spend your time on the Internet? If the answer that comes immediately to mind is “checking out other people’s selfies,” you may want to break that habit.

Newly published research finds that the more time Web surfers spend gazing at other people’s selfies, the lower their self-esteem and satisfaction with life.

This is particularly true of people who feel a need to be popular, Pennsylvania State University researchers Ruoxu Wang, Fan Yang, and Michel Haigh write in the journal Telematics and Informatics.

Their study featured 275 adults recruited online, 80 percent of whom reported they post selfies on Facebook. Significant numbers also did the same on Instagram (35.6 percent) and Twitter (20.7 percent).

“Selfie viewing behavior is actually an example of upward social comparison.”

They were asked how many times in a typical week they post both selfies and group selfies on social media, and how many times they view both types of photographs. Their levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, and “need for popularity” were measured using standard surveys.

The results: “The more frequently people view selfies on social media, the lower their self-esteem and life satisfaction,” the researchers write. They believe these results reflect the selective nature of our selfie viewing.

“Selfie viewing behavior is actually an example of upward social comparison,” the researchers write. “Individuals tend to compare (their own level of success and happiness) with people who are (doing) better than themselves.”

The result, they write, could be increased levels of jealousy and/or loneliness, either of which could easily lower one’s life satisfaction.

The good news is “people who view ‘groupies’ frequently tend to have a higher level of self-esteem, and higher level of life satisfaction.” The researchers suspect this is because many if not most of those group selfies include the viewer. This image of oneself having fun with friends instills a comforting “sense of community,” they write.

Furthermore, they report that posting selfies — alone or with others — appears to have no influence on self-esteem or life satisfaction one way or the other. If you can’t seem to stop doing so in spite of this lack of reward, beware: Another recent study found narcissists post more selfies than the rest of us, and the process of doing so leads them to still higher levels of narcissism.

Well, what would you expect for a habit that literally includes the word “self”?