Study finds viewing selfies on social media can make you miserable or jolly — depending on how you see yourself

Selfies may be ruining your life, Penn state researchers have found. The researchers have linked frequent viewings of these kind of pictures on social networks with lower levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.

Image credits Kaique Rocha / Pexels.

OK, disclosure time: I am not a fan of the selfie. Part of that is because I don’t like the way I look in pictures. But the thing that drives me over the edge is that whenever I log into Facebook, I get swamped in a soul-crushing flood of the things. Unless you’re doing something amazing (the textbook definition, like being an astronaut, not the “amazing day!!!” way it’s thrown in selfie descriptions), one of these isn’t warranted.

And it seems like I’m not the only one, as Penn State University researchers have found that “lurking” — the act of observing content on social media without taking an active part in posting, liking, or commenting — can have a detrimental effect on how we view themselves.

Wang and Fan Yang, two mass communications graduates from Penn State together with their graduate adviser, associate professor in communications Michel Haigh, have conducted an online survey to study the effects of posting and viewing selfies and groupies. The duo found that posting didn’t have any significant psychological effects on the participants. Viewing, however, did. The results show that the more often people viewed their own or others’ selfies, the lower their levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction were.

“People usually post selfies when they’re happy or having fun,” said Wang. “This makes it easy for someone else to look at these pictures and think your, his, or her life is not as great as theirs.”

The participants who reported having a stronger desire to appear popular were more sensitive to selfie viewing. In their case, however, viewing selfies and groupies appeared to increase self-esteem and life satisfaction. The team says this likely happens because it satisfied the participants’ desire to appear popular. Frequently viewing groupies tended to have a positive effect on both of the measured traits.

“It is probably because when people view groupies on social media, they feel a sense of community as the groupies they view may also contain themselves,” according to the study,

The researchers hope their findings can help raise awareness about the effects of social media use and how it influences the way we perceive ourselves. The study included 275 people in the US.

“We don’t often think about how what we post affects the people around us,” said Yang. “I think this study can help people understand the potential consequences of their posting behavior. This can help counselors work with students feeling lonely, unpopular, or unsatisfied with their lives.”

But, if you’re feeling down from all that selfie binging on Facebook, the platform can help lift your spirits back up. Just have a quick 5-minute viewing of your own profile, scientists say. Then you’ll remember they use your phone to listen in on anything you say, and you’ll rightfully be sad again. :(

The full paper, titled “Let me take a selfie: Exploring the psychological effects of posting and viewing selfies and groupies on social media” has been published in the journal Telematics and Informatics.

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