People who take a lot of selfies might be doing something right, as painful as it is to admit. A new study out of the University of California, Irvine, has found that college students who regularly took selfies to document their days reported higher levels of happiness and self-confidence than those who didn’t. If you’re feeling down, maybe it’s time to dust off your smartphone’s “other” camera – you know, the one on the front that you accidentally open sometimes.
The study, which was published in Psychology of Well-Being, observed 41 college students, 28 female and 13 male, over the course of four weeks. During the first week, the students recorded their thoughts, in writing, three times per day using a special smartphone app. For the following three weeks, the students were instructed to accompany their journal entries with pictures.
Here’s where the science comes in. Students were split into three groups; let’s call them A, B, and C. Group A could only take photos of things that made them happy, like safe spaces and trigger warnings. Group B could only take photos of things that would make other people happy, undoubtedly frightening those millennials that have only ever thought about themselves. Finally, group C was required to take selfies that showed them smiling. Easy peasy.
Researchers discovered that all three groups experienced an improvement in their emotional well-being once pictures were introduced into the mix. Group A became “more reflective.” Group B felt less stress thanks to forming deeper connection with friends and family. However, group C was found to have also become more self-confident and comfortable in their skin throughout the three-week period. Conclusion: taking pictures is good for you, but taking selfies is great for you.
As the study notes, the results could be explained under the self-perception theory. Members of Group C had to smile more often, which essentially convinced their brain that they were happier since they were smiling more often. According to the theory, we examine ourselves the same way we size up others. Just like we figure that a person is happy if they frequently smile, our minds deem us “happy,” or at least happier, if we smile more often.
While the results might make sense, the methodology behind the study appears flawed. The number of participants is notably low, while the gender imbalance makes it difficult to apply the study’s findings to society at large. Furthermore, college students are among the most likely demographics to frequently take selfies and share them with their friends, which means that the study would probably have a dramatically different result if other age groups were selected.
Selfies might make some people happier, but who are these people? An Ohio State University study found higher levels of narcissism and psychopathy among men who frequently post selfies on social media. Selfie-addicted women were also found to have increased levels of narcissism and psychopathy in their personalities. Many of these women were also found to struggle with self-objectification, which is when one only values his or her looks and will do anything – including developing eating disorders and undergoing plastic surgery – to maintain them.
While selfies have been around in one form or another for centuries, the ubiquity of social media has undoubtedly contributed to their meteoric rise in popularity. Selfies and social media go together like coffee and cream, and herein lies the problem: social media makes people miserable. Although checking your Facebook feed or seeing what your friends are doing on Snapchat might seem pleasurable on the surface, studies have shown that social media addictions are incredibly easy to acquire and can become the psychological equivalent of smoking cigarettes.
After studying the brain of several social media users, scientists determined that our pleasure centers light up when we receive acknowledgment or praise from our friends. Users who were more addicted received even greater pleasure from getting “likes.” This creates a vicious circle, where power users feel the need to fabricate their virtual personas in order to keep getting their fix of likes. If one were to post a selfie that received no attention, the result could be a shattered ego.
Selfies are probably not the key to happiness, but science has uncovered a couple clues to get us on the right track. A 75-year Harvard study into the source of true happiness determined that love and relationships are of utmost importance. Drinking in moderation and financial stability also help. Noticeably absent from the list are selfies, but then again, whoever set up the study back in the ‘40s probably wasn’t worried about duck face. Like anything, selfies are probably okay as long as they don’t consume your life, but if you’re not careful, they might just end it entirely.