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Too Many Selfies?


The selfie is a mainstay of social media. Many people spend time every day taking, perfecting and posting selfies. Given the rise in popularity of the selfie, a mental health condition of selfitis – an obsession with taking selfies – sounds like it could be real. But selfitis is not a recognized mental disorder.


Selfitis, did make a popular fake news story a few years ago, and the attention to this made-up condition led to some actual research. Researchers at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and Thiagarajar School of Management in India conducted an exploratory study of the concept of selfitis and developed a scale for measuring levels of severity. They identified six factors that appear to underlie selfitis, including environmental enhancement (creating better memories), social competition, attention seeking, mood modification (making the person feel better), self-confidence, and subjective conformity (social belongingness). They conclude that while their research is preliminary, the six identified factors “are potentially useful in understanding such human-computer interaction across mobile electronic devices.”


Several other research teams have begun taking a look at various aspects of the ever-present phenomenon of selfies. Researchers in Germany explored the motivation behind taking selfies and reported it in an article titled, “The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them.” The researchers found people view their own selfies as more authentic than others’ and strongly expressed a preference for viewing photos other than selfies. They conclude “In the end, it might be all about fulfilling basic human needs (here: popularity, self-expression) in a way that feels good for people, does not reveal too much about deeper motivations and allows them to keep a positive self-view and image to others.”


Another study looked at the use of selfies and other smartphone photography to improve emotional well-being. They sought to combine theories of positive psychology and the use of smartphone photography to help college students reduce stress and become happier. Student participants were assigned to take one of three type of photos each day: selfies while they were smiling; photos of things that made them happy; or photos of things that would make other people happy. The third group was asked to send the photos they took to other people. People in all three groups became more positive after three weeks of taking photos. People in the selfie group became more confident and creative with their smiles, people in the group taking photos for themselves became more reflective and mindful, and people taking photos for others became calmer.


Several studies looked at motivations for taking selfies and personality characteristics most associated with posting selfies. One study identified three basic types of motivation for taking selfies: self-approval (need to validate one’s confidence), belonging (uploading selfies and obeying social norms to feel a part of one’s environment) and documentation (to preserve one’s memory and experience). The study authors note that, unlike other studies, none of the motives were found to relate to narcissism. A study reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2016 found that women post more selfies than men and that the personality traits of extraversion and social exhibitionism predict more online selfie-posting behavior among both men and women. They found no relationship between self-esteem and selfie-posting behavior.


One area of concern identified in several studies is greater dissatisfaction with body image. For example, in one study adolescent girls who regularly shared selfies on social media expressed more body dissatisfaction and more focus on dieting and a thin ideal than girls who posted selfies less often.

If you want to explore more about the selfie phenomenon in a less serious way, you can visit the new Museum of Selfies which is set to open in April near Los Angeles. The pop-up museum “explores the history and cultural phenomenon of the selfie.” It is expected to take a light-hearted approach to the concept of selfies and to offer plenty of opportunities for interactive engagement with taking selfies.


  • Balakrishnan J and Griffiths MD. An Exploratory Study of “Selfitis” and the development of the sefitis behavior scale. Int J Ment Health Addiction. Published online Nov. 2017.
  • Diefenback S and Christoforakos L. The Selfie Paradox: Nobody seems to like them yet everyone has reasons to take them. An exploration of psychological functions of selfies in self-presentation. Frontiers in Psychology, 2017, volume 8, article 7.
  • Chen Y, Mark, G and Ali S. Promoting Positive Affect through Smartphone Photography. Psychology of Well-Being. 2016, 6:8.
  • Sorokowska A, et al. Selfies and personality: Who posts self-portrait photographs? Personality and Individual Differences, 2016, 90:119–123.
  • McLean SA et al. Photoshopping the selfie: self-photo editing and photo investment area associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. In J Eat Disord. 2015, 48(8):1132-40.
  • Dulta E, et al. Attitudes Toward selfie taking in school-going adolescents: An Exploratory study. Indian J Psychol Med. 2016 38(3):242-245.
  • Sorokowska A, et al. Selfies and personality: Who posts self-portrait photographs? Personality and Individual Differences, 2016, Volume 90, February 2016, Pages 119-123.



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