People have been snapping photos of themselves since time immemorial (or at least since the camera was invented); however, the process has accelerated exponentially with the rise of camera phones and social media, prompting countless cultural critics to decry that a pandemic of narcissism is ravaging American culture and values.
Millennials and Instagram's most prolific stunners, from Kim Kardashian to Emily Ratajkowski, have taken the heat, but a new study determines that the truth is much more complicated: taking an absolutely fire selfie and then uploading it to social media does not necessarily make someone a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist.
After surveying 46 participants, 75 percent of whom were women, researchers at Brigham Young University determined that people who take selfies fall into three distinct categories: communicators, autobiographers and self-publicists.
Participants were presented with a series of statements, such as "I take and share selfies because I want people to be impressed with the way I look" or "I take and share selfies to share a part of my life with other people," and were then asked how strongly they agreed with the statements on a sliding 11-point scale, ranging from strong disagreement (-5) to strong agreement (+5).
So-called "communicators" did not betray particularly strong narcissist qualities as they were determined to share selfies "to engage in conversation." Communicators tended to agree with innocuous statements like "I take and share selfies to show people where I am," and "I take and share selfies to show people what I'm doing."
Like how Kim Kardashian did when she simply wanted everyone to know she was at the beach...
"Autobiographers" are similarly harmless in that they upload selfies to "chronicle themselves," almost as a digital scrapbook. They most agreed with statements like "I take and share selfies so I can record my memories" and "I take and share selfies to document myself for myself."
Like Kylie Jenner did when she wanted to capture for her own memories her "last bathroom selfie" of 2016...
The ones to watch out for are those flashy "self-publicists" who use their selfies in order to cultivate an attractive public persona. They most agreed with statements like "I take and share selfies when I think I look nice" or "I take and share selfies because I have control of how I look." Image is paramount to self-publicists, who don't use selfies to engage in conversation but rather appear "cooler" or "hotter" than the rest of the pack.
We love her regardless, but Abigail Ratchford set off some red flags when she took a selfie and then boasted she had found "the best selfie lighting on earth."
The study sheds critical light on social-media behaviors, and may assuage alarmists who believe social-media poses an inherently self-destructive risk, warping otherwise well-adjusted people into raging narcissists hell-bent on being better than everyone else. However, the study does not negate that social media has given narcissists a very strong visual platform.
Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Narcissist Next Door, said it best: "It's a little bit like what an open bar is to a drunk or a cheesecake buffet is to a glutton. It's just an easier way of getting the substance you were going to be abusing anyway. We're getting a lot drunker on our narcissism with the help of social media, but we were already a pretty drunk country to begin with."
Having said that, you can still save us a seat at the buffet...