The Science Of Selfies: Why Are We Obsessed With Our Self Image?

By Ajit Jha on January 17, 2014 12:10 PM EST

Girl taking selfie
We take so many selfies because we have no concept of what we actually look like. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Selfies may be new, but obsession over self-image is certainly not. While the English Oxford dictionary included the word "Selfie" in its dictionary only in 2013, one of the first teenager to take her selfie was Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna in 1914. She was just 13 at the time.

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What is it with selfies? Is it just narcissism plain and simple, or is there something behind it? University College London neuroscientist James Kilner says a lot of it has to do with a psychological difference between observing an image of yourself and looking at photos of others.

Reading and responding to the facial expressions of others is critical to successful social interactions, and so we spend a lot of time unconsciously interpreting others people's faces and facial expressions — so much so, in fact, that most of us become expert at it over time.

Yet, we rarely look at our own faces. We have no idea how out facial expression looks like at any given time and as a result, we have a very inaccurate representation of it. Studies have shown that if you show a person an image of themselves, and then ask them to replicate the expression in that image, they can't do it. And other studies have proven that most people can't identify an image that is their actual image from a set of their digitally altered images, some more and some less attractive images, along with an original image.  

A lot of it has to do with the fact that most people don't really like how they actually look. That's not that shocking. It's also not too surprising that people consistently think they appear more attractive than they actually are, going by the choice of their image from a set of digitally altered images. The image we have of ourselves, in other words, is more often younger and attractive than we actually are.  It also explains the logic behind obsessive tendency to take selfies. We continue to snap our own photos until we get an image that we think we look like. 

Photo above courtesy of Shutterstock.

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