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Drop that selfie stick: you may be vainer than you think!

Photo of Nicholas Rule and Daniel Re taking a selfie

Selfie time: Nicholas Rule, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Social Perception and Cognition at U of T with postdoctoral researcher, Daniel Re (Photo by Diana Tyszko)

When University of Toronto psychologist Daniel Re set out to study the habits of selfie-takers on social media, no amount of overestimation could have prepared him for the high opinions people seem to have of themselves online.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” says the postdoctoral researcher, who collaborated  with his undergraduate students on the study, titled “Selfie Indulgence: Self-Favoring Biases in Perceptions of Selfies”.

“This was definitely more lighthearted than the things we usually observe,” he adds of the study, which found that “frequent-selfie-takers” rated their own selfies higher than other people’s opinion of those same selfies.

In-fact, according to the study, even selfie-takers who claimed they disliked the narcissism they associated with other people’s selfies still rated their own selfies higher than anyone else rated them.

“That was a real surprise,” Re says. “They seem to be aware that people don’t like seeing a bunch of selfies of others, but when you ask people who hate selfies to rate their own selfies they rate them really high – almost as if they’d forgotten what they just said.”

To conduct the study, Re and team escorted 200 undergraduate students into a room where they were each asked to take a photo of themselves that they would be happy posting online.

Then the researchers came into the room and asked each student to pose for a photo as if it was being taken by a friend who was going to post the photo on social media.

The students – who had a mean age of 22 – were asked to rate the photos of themselves on a scale of 1-7 in terms of attractiveness (1 = Not very attractive, 7 = Very attractive) and likeability (1 = Not very likable, 7 = Very likable.)

The students – who weren’t told what the study was about – were also asked to fill out a narcissistic personality survey, as well as a questionnaire about their selfie-taking habits.

A separate group of nearly 200 people then rated the selfie-takers’ photos on the same 1-7 scales for attractiveness and likability.

Roughly half of the student participants reported regularly taking selfies (roughly 5 selfies in the week previous to the study, posting an average of 1.5 of those selfies in that time frame.)

 The results of the study paint a picture of the generous views certain people have of themselves, compared to unbiased views that others have of how we present ourselves online.

Frequent selfie-takers’ opinion of themselves (roughly 4.5 / 7 on the attractiveness scale, on average, and 5 / 7 on the likeability scale, on average) was higher than the opinions non-selfie-takers had of themselves (roughly 3.5 / 7 on the attractiveness scale, on average, and 4 / 7 on the likeability scale, on average.)

Serial-selfiers’ opinions of themselves were even higher when compared to what other people thought of the frequent selfie-takers’ photos (other people rated the frequent selfie-takers’ images at roughly 3 / 7 on the attractiveness scale, on average, and 4 / 7 on the likeability scale, on average.)

“We actually had a really hard time finding our group of non-selfie-takers,” Re says. “Some people reported taking as many as 20, 50, even 100 selfies in a week.”

Across-the-board, all the selfie-takers had a higher opinion of their own photos than the ones that the experimenters took of them, though the outsiders looking at the photos essentially rated the selfie-takers’ own photos and ones that the experimenters took of them equally low.

“People take so many of these, they trick themselves in to thinking they’re doing a good job at it,” says Re. “Ironically, by doing so, they may be making themselves look more narcissistic andless attractive.”

Re says he’s interested in doing a follow-up survey with a larger, more-diverse sample, as such insights into our online presence can have important implications for career advancement, personal relationships, and other instances where it’s important to be seen in a positive light.

Re’s study appears in the May 18 edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.