Over the last decade, the rise of social media has been fast and complete.
There have been many positive aspects about the role of social media, such as its use in political community organization (e.g., the Arab Spring of 2011) and the ability of users to stay connected to friends and family. That said, however, some have urged that the proliferation of social media—and more specifically the rise of the selfie—has contributed the rise of narcissism.
And, while on its face, clams of rising narcissism appear to remain reasonable, actual scientific investigation on the matter remain scant. In fact, not until 2015 was a paper published in the scientific literature that explores whether a possible connection between selfies and narcissistic behavior exists.
The question remains: Is there a link between posting selfies and narcissism?
According to the article, “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem, the short answer is “no.” Published in the Journal of Psychology and Popular Media Culture in 2015, the authors of the paper did not find a statistically significant correlation between narcissism and taking selfies. In other words, for an association to be statistically significant there has to be at least less than a 5 percent chance (referred to as the “.05 level”) or, in some cases, less than 1 percent chance that the phenomenon being observed is due to a chance occurrence. In this case, no such correlation was found.
The authors note that since about 2004, the use of the selfie has “skyrocketed by 17,000%.” Also, the authors note that one poll found about 47% of adults post selfies.
As social media has risen, more research has been conducted to investigate its effects. But a consensus has not been reached, as there have been mixed findings on the impact of social media, particularly the influence of social media on self-esteem. In summarizing the literature, the authors of the above-mentioned 2015 study report a range of findings, from “negative influence” to “positive influence” to “no associations.” In other words, a review of the scientific literature yields mixed results on the impact of social media on things such as self-esteem.
As the authors make clear: “. . . Not all of the attention on selfies has been negative. For instance, some have argued that selfies are a healthy form of self-exploration, allowing individuals to be more authentic, and that selfies can actually boost self-esteem.”
So, that said, there isn’t necessary a clear link between selfies and narcissism. And, in summary, the current research on the matter has made two key findings:
1) positing selfies is a “common occurrence,” and
2) there is a “general lack of association between self-reported narcissism and self-esteem.” Although these results are interesting and add light to the conversation, the debate about social media and narcissism remains far from over.
So, the next time your friend posts a selfies, do not assume that they are showing symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
Barry, C. T., et al. (2015). Let Me Take a Selfie: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissim, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2017, 6(1), 48 – 68.