Are selfies the height of narcissism and self-distortion?
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have found both men and women distort their camera angles to alter the height perception of the opposite sex when posting selfies on the wildly popular dating app Tinder.
Specifically, men tended to orient their camera angles more often from below, making them appear taller and more “powerful,” the team reports, and women from above to appear relatively shorter and “less powerful.”
The findings suggest selfies used for the purposes of mate attraction “are intuitively or perhaps consciously selected to adhere to ideal mate qualities,” the researchers write. A smartphone’s front-facing camera lets people shoot from an angle that easily and “perceptually manipulates” qualities the opposite sex finds appealing, they note.
The work is the latest in a flurry of academic papers on the selfie phenomenon, that omnipresent form of self-portraiture, and what it says about human behavior.
It’s not all that flattering.
According to the selfie literature, people take selfies but, if given a choice, would rather not look at them (the “selfie paradox”); we tend to view our own selfies as “ironic” and “authentic” but others as shamelessly self-promotional; and people posed in selfies tend to be perceived as less trustworthy, less socially attractive and more narcissistic than the same person posed in a photo snapped by someone else.
“The selfie craze has signaled to researchers that there’s some new behavior that’s going on that we might benefit from understanding better,” said Nicholas Rule, professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in social perception and cognition at the University of Toronto, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
Selfies, in and of themselves, aren’t inherently more valuable than studying behavior on Twitter or Facebook “or any of the other new, social media manifestations that seem to be capturing a lot of people’s time and energy,” Rule said.
However, they reflect a remarkable uptick in narcissism. “It could be that things like selfies are just allowing people who are already narcissistic to express that narcissism more. Or it could be encouraging more narcissistic behavior,” Rule said.
In a paper on “selfie indulgence” published last year, Rule and colleague Daniel Re found selfie-takers see themselves as more attractive and likable in their selfies than in photos taken by other people. Independent raters thought otherwise, rating the selfies as more off-putting than photos of the same person taken by research assistants. “People obviously don’t necessarily have the most objective self-perception,” Rule said.
The University of Saskatchewan study set out to explore how heterosexual men and women portray themselves to viewers— from above, or below — for selfies displayed on Tinder.
For the study, first author Jennifer Sedgewick created two fake Tinder accounts — one of a man seeking women, the other a woman seeking men.
With a reported 50 million active users, Tinder generates photos of potential mates, based on gender, age range and geographic proximity. Users can rapidly “swipe right” on profiles they like, left on those they don’t, and, should two users consider one another acceptable, they’re notified that a “match” has been made.
“Although physical height is a significant feature of mate selection,” the team writes, “this cue is absent from Tinder’s profile layout unless explicitly stated by the user in their profile tagline.”
The team hypothesized that, when choosing the first profile pictures, arguably the most important, Tinder users “may intuitively know to select an image where the vertical angle of the camera is consistent with how they want to be presented to the opposite sex: for men, from below to appear larger and dominant (i.e., powerful) and for women, from above to look smaller and submissive (i.e. less powerful.)”
Sedgewick said that, according to evolutionary psychology, “up”, or tallness signifies masculinity, and “down”, or being shorter, femininity.
The analysis was based on screenshots of 557 selfies. Overall, selfies accounted for 54 per cent of men’s, and 90 per cent of women’s profile pictures. Research assistants were seated at eye-level to a desktop computer, shown the selfies and asked which vertical location they thought they were relative to the person in the picture — above them, below them or dead level.
There’s not a crazy amount that we can extrapolate, just based on the fact we don’t know these people
The researchers found what they predicted: men oriented the camera more often from below, and women more often from above.
“There’s not a crazy amount that we can extrapolate, just based on the fact we don’t know these people,” Sedgewick said in an interview. She doesn’t want the take-away to be, “He’s just shorter.”
“But it’s interesting to explore how people are deciding to represent themselves when attracting other mates, or even specifically with this new technique of self-portraiture.”
Manipulating a seflie’s “vertical spatial dimension,” she and her co-authors add, can enhance other physical features. For men, shooting from below makes the jaw, which is in the foreground, appear larger. For women, an above camera-tilt can “distort the head in relation to the body size,” the team writes, “deemphasizing a feature commonly misrepresented by women — their weight.”
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the study, published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.
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