Selfies are not a new topic. Baby Boomers are as eager to mock selfies as they are to figure out why we take them. And take them we do—roughly one million selfies are taken every day. That number seems impossible until you learn that we take nearly one trillion photos in a year. To do that, we take more pics every few minutes than the total number of photos taken in the 1800s.
So what is it about selfies that has so many of us taking photo after photo? You might be surprised to learn that taking selfies fits snugly—and sanely—into normal human psychology.
We look at a person’s face first
You’ve likely heard that as human beings we have a tendency to focus on people’s faces first when we meet them. In fact, we pay more attention to a person’s face than anything else about them—both online and off. Not only that, we also appreciate seeing a human face more than other visual content, and this may explain why people feel encouraged to take selfies.
A 2014 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs showed that Instagram photos with faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes than photos without faces, and 32 percent more likely to get comments. It didn’t matter how many faces were in the photo, nor the race, age, or gender of the faces. If the photograph had a face, people were more drawn to it than other Instagram photos.
“Even as babies, people love to look at faces,” said Bakhshi [the Georgia Tech College of Computing Ph.D. student who led the study]. “Faces are powerful channels of non-verbal communication. We constantly monitor them for a variety of contexts, including attractiveness, emotions and identity.”
However, the same study found that the more selfies one posted, the less likely they were to receive likes and comments. It follows that saturating your followers’ feeds with selfies might make each individual photo less noteworthy. So if your selfies don’t seem to be getting more likes and comments then your other photos, consider scaling the amount your publish back so your selfie gems have room to shine.
We long to cultivate and project our self-image
Digging a little deeper into human psychology gives us other clues. A theory proposed by American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley, called the ‘looking glass self’, states that “a person’s self grows out of a person´s social interactions with others”. Basically, our sense of ourselves is built on how we believe others perceive us and our personal qualities.
The self is not compiled from who we ‘really are’, but how we believe others see us. Cooley’s theory proceeds as follows: we imagine how we appear to another person, then we imagine what judgments people make of us based on our appearance, and lastly we imagine how the person feels about us based on those judgments.
“I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.” – Charles Horton Cooley
According to Cooley, we form our self-image from our perception of how others in our close environment view us. These people serve as the ‘mirrors’ that reflect back images of ourselves.
Maybe this explains all the mirror selfies…?
Guide to a great selfie
Speaking of mirror selfies, we’ve all made selfie mistakes in the past. In the name of science, you can learn how to take great selfies and display your best digital self. Here are some of the most popular tips:
- Smile naturally with your teeth
- Play with composition; try something asymmetrical
- Keep your hair out of your eyes
- Find your best jaw angle
- And lastly, consider conveying why you took the selfie. Is it at a special location? Having a particularly good hair day? Make ’em appreciate your selfie; you look great.