Devina Singh, M.D., Steven Lippmann, M.D.
In the era of digital media and social networking, presenting oneself in pictures has gained prominence. Such photography has become widely accessible. A self-image using a web camera and/or mobile device has become so famous that a new term, “selfie”, came into existence. Selfie was the Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2013.
Making a selfie is an expression of a desire to save the moment (1). It can also reveal much about the personality of the person who took the picture.2 Most people record selfies to post and share on social sites; it is a popular new lifestyle of the twenty-first century (1,2). There is a general difference in the selfies taken by the genders; women are more expressive at and post their selfies more frequently, as compared to men (1). In the past, when people did not have access to computers, getting a self-portrait was fashionable; thus, selfies replaced that previously more difficult mode of photography. They are especially valued among the young generation (2). Approximately 93 billion selfies are imaged by android cameras each day. Among 18-24 years olds, reportedly every third photograph taken by them is a selfie (3).
It is important to know about the psychology of selfies and their consequences for the individual and the community (3). Posting a selfie on the internet is common these days.1 People taking more selfies tend to be extroverts (4). Selfies can have a favorable aspect, but also might introduce a critical new concern. Selfies are imaginative and do increase the chances of expressing oneself; they also might make people more independent and help to combat boredom (3). However, taking selfies can also sometimes be inconsiderate of other people, especially when “getting the perfect shot” becomes an obsession. An additional very worrisome issue emerges especially when young girls post their pictures and use them to judge their own bodies or when inappropriate photos are dissimulated digitally (3). When such or any other sensitive, personal images are posted, their dissemination is no longer restricted, sometimes with ill effects. It can result in dangerous consequences. Once something is posted, the sender loses control of it, and the outcome may be undesirable.
Despite selfies being normal, selfies also might become harmful. Excessive selfie clicking can become a troublesome obsession and may be related to different personality traits. These three of these personalities are narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (5). Narcissistic people exhibit feelings of superiority and perfection, but also often harbor self-doubt. Those with psychopathy have little compassion about harming others (6). Persons with Machiavellian traits fulfill their wishes with diminished ethics. All three utilize social websites that allow posting and amending pictures. Individuals with low self-esteem, obsession, and/or hyperactivity also sometimes exhibit high rates of “snapping” selfies (5,6).
Can selfie result in death? In the excitement to click the best shot, reportedly, some teenagers have lost their lives, for one example, by being hit by a train in trying to achieve a most exotic selfie (6). People with light sensitive epilepsy might induce a seizure by exposure to phone camera lighting (7). Obsessive traits also can emerge in a way similar to gambling or excessive computerized gaming, etc., that can become a major social problem.
Taking a self-picture is normal, until it vastly exceeds the usual frequency, when it starts providing emotional pleasure, or interferes with a normal life-style. These would be some signs of concern. As with many other behaviors, moderation is encouraged. Physicians might occasionally need to provide guidance at self-photography frequency and limits. We may also need to council parents when selfies become an issue for the family.
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5. Fox J, Rooney MC. The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences. 2015;76:161-165.
6. Singh S, Tripathi KM. Selfie: A New Obsession. 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2920945https://ssrn.com/abstract=2920945.
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