Why We Take ‘Selfies’

by By Bruce Alpert  2017-09-04 00:00:00

Why do people take "selfies?"

Researchers at Syracuse University in New York tried to answer that question. They came up with some surprising answers.

People who post selfies and use editing software to make themselves look better show behavior connected to narcissism, the Syracuse researchers said.

Narcissists are people who think very highly of themselves, especially how they look.

Ji Won Kim, a doctoral student at the university's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, worked on the study. She said because social media can be superficial, it is a good place for people to "work towards satisfying their own vanity."

By superficial, she means social media is mostly used by people to share unimportant information about their lives -- not deeply personal issues.

There are other reasons, besides narcissism, that people post selfies.

People who post group selfies show a need for popularity and a need to belong to a group, the Syracuse University research found.

Other findings from the study include:

There are no major differences on how often men and women post selfies and how often they use editing software. But men who post selfies showed more of a need to be seen as popular than women who posted selfies.

The Newhouse School's Associate Professor Makana Chock worked on the study. She said selfies should not be seen as completely negative.

She said some people feel "peer pressure" to post selfies. And some follow the popular belief that if there is no picture of an event or experience, it did not really happen.

Impersonators of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, former U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. President Donald Trump take selfies in Hong Kong on July 4, 2017.Impersonators of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, former U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. President Donald Trump take selfies in Hong Kong on July 4, 2017.

Chock said posting selfies on social media is not all that different from what people have done for many years.

On trips and special events, our parents and grandparents used cameras instead of phones to take photos. Before social media, people would bring back photos to show friends and family. You had no choice but to look at them.

If you are a nice person, you commented about how nice everyone in the photos looked, especially children and the person showing the photos. That was the old way of "clicking" like.

On social media, it is a different experience. People can decide not to look at photos of their friends and family -- even if they click "like" or even "love" under the Facebook selfie.

Using social media to post photos is pretty new. Facebook did not start until 2004. Instagram started in 2010.

It was not until 2013 that the Oxford English language dictionary added the term "selfies." It defined selfie as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself."

Here is how the Syracuse researchers did their study.

They questioned 260 people, aged 18 to 65, and almost evenly divided between men and women.

To determine narcissism, people were asked if they agreed with personality traits connected to narcissism. For example, people were asked if they agreed with statements such as, "I like to be the center of attention" and "I like having authority over people."

To determine if those in the study had a need to be seen as popular, people were asked if they agreed with these statements: "It's important that people think I'm popular" and "I often do things just to be popular with people at school."

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on 17VOA.COM. Do you take "selfies." What kind of photos do you show on social media?

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Words in This Story

selfie - n. a picture that you take of yourself especially by using the camera on your smartphone

post - v. to add a message or phone to an online site

editing software - n. computer equipment to help you change a person's appearance in photos

vanity - n. the quality of people who have too much pride in their own appearance, abilities, achievements

peer pressure - n. a feeling that you must do the same things as other people of your age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them

trait - n. a quality that makes one person or thing different from another

authority - n. the power to give orders or make decisions

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