They say a picture is worth a thousand words. To a trained eye, every selfie is worth a lot of information. The body posture, the clothing, the make up, the expressions. They all help in revealing personality-related cues.
The specialty of a selfie is that is allows the user to manipulate his/her face, the freedom to control their face visibility, emotional expression, and camera position. It, therefore, becomes a vehicle of self-expression and a better tool to understand personality traits. However, the ability to manipulate emotional expression, visibility and camera position means that most selfies inadvertently tell a bigger story than they intend to.
And, while thinking about it we stumbled upon this interesting paper. A group of researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore and Chinese Academy of Sciences, China undertook a study that aimed to answer the question:
What does your selfie say about you?
They crawled through 1,953,485 users from Sina Weibo which is a popular microblogging website similar to Twitter in China). But only a total of 505 users participated in return for payment of RMB30 or US$4.8 per person. They also recruited 107 Chinese students from a Singapore University.
And, here comes the interesting part.
They rated each selfie based on these thirteen cues: : duckface, pressed lips, emotional positivity, eyes looking at the camera, camera height, camera in front, face visibility, amount of body, alone or not alone, location information, public location, private location and Photoshop editing.
Selfie and the Big Five personality factors
The results found the selfies invariably show their owner’s personality. The association between selfies and personality was formed by measuring participants’ Big Five personality and coding their selfies posted on a social networking site.
Big Five personality factors include openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Here are some broad themes that emerged out of the study. Emotional positivity predicts agreeableness and openness; duckface indicates neuroticism; and private location in the background indicates less conscientiousness.
Observers could easily judge the owners’ degree of openness — a reflection of the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety.
It also found that observers cannot accurately judge selfie owners who happen to be strangers. The study contends that “selfies allow individuals to have full control of their appearance. Individuals can easily manipulate their facial expression and eye contact to appear different from how they normally look.”
In this article, on selective self-representation, we argued that we are more prone to project our ideal version of ourselves than our real versions in social media in a bid to improve our self-esteem. We project an identity that we’d like to others to see, which in turn would reflect in the way we think about ourselves.
Limitation of the study
However, the study has some limitations, which by no means diminish the importance of the results. First, the body language is culture and place-dependent. So, the results might not be applicable in other places.
Also, this one took into account only one social media website.
However, the researchers are quick to point out:
Our study is the first to reveal personality-related cues in selfies, and suggests that the Our study is the first to reveal personality-related cues in selfies, and suggests that the difference between personality expression in selfies and other types of photos might be due to impression management of social media users. We provided the first coding scheme specific for selfies. Future studies in psychology, communication, and human–computer interaction can use it to process selfies and further understand how they reflect users’ characteristics and psychological processes.difference between personality expression in selfies and other types of photos might be due to impression management of social media users. We provided the first coding scheme specific for selfies. Future studies in psychology, communication, and human–computer interaction can use it to process selfies and further understand how they reflect users’ characteristics and psychological processes.
Qiu, L., Lu, J., Yang, S., Qu, W., & Zhu, T. (2015). What does your selfie say about you?Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 443-449