Selfies have been getting media attention for a few years now, which is understandable. It is curious behavior. Older generations don’t seem to understand the fuss and younger generations don’t seem to consider the consequences. In just the past couple of months, mental health related magazines and websites such as Psychology today and PsychCentral have begun to weigh in on this issue, probably due to a recent study from Ohio State University that suggests a link between Selfies and narcissistic and psychopathic behaviors in men. Yes, there is now scientific research. Selfies are now a part of the zeitgeist. Oh, Brave New World.
However, it’s important to clarify a few things. These days, the words “Narcissist” and “Psychopath” get tossed about like confetti, to the point where they have lost all meaning. Furthermore, a study that shows a correlation between two things is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Lots of things have correlations. What’s important is causation, not correlation, as any good scientist will tell you. I bet there is a correlation between fat people and Sci-Fi movies, but that doesn't mean that watching Serenity makes you fat.
Researchers can show a relationship between just about anything if you give them enough time and funding. In the same way, taking a Selfie does not make you a narcissist and it certainly does not make you a psychopath. All that study has done is show there is a relationship between Selfies and psychopathic behavior. It doesn't mean that people who take Selfies will knife you in your sleep. Let’s be realistic about this.
It’s probably also a good idea to define the terms “narcissist” and “psychopath” properly. The former exhibits extreme self-centeredness. Narcissists have an obsessive need to be admired by others and have a sense of entitlement that seems to come from nowhere. They tend to think they are better and smarter than everyone else, or that their problems and concerns are more important. Psychopaths, by contrast, lack both empathy and remorse, which makes them dangerous because people who have no conscience don’t worry about things like regret and are incapable of feeling shame or guilt. While Selfies do seem to indulge our inner narcissist and perhaps even our inner psycho, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the link between them is strong.
It’s all a matter of degree. There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention. If you’re feeling particularly sexy today and you want your friends to see you in that hot pink spaghetti strap, then a Selfie does not a narcissist make. But what are your motivations? Is it really to interact with your friends in a healthy and appropriate manner? Do you genuinely want their feedback and are you willing to give your opinion if your friends were to do the same thing? If it’s a give and take relationship, you likely have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you spend hours and hours photo-shopping a “candid” Selfie because you are desperate for attention, you might want to do some self-reflection, as it sounds more like a compulsion than an hobby.
We all have narcissistic and even psychopathic traits. They might be dormant but we all have them. Interestingly, many of the traits associated with both narcissism and psychopathology are also the same traits found in good leaders and successful business people. Perhaps one of the differences lies in self-awareness. Perhaps the next time you send a Selfie, take a moment to question your motives. If they are pure, send away.
Do you think Selfies are a sign of Narcissism? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below.