Follow for follow. Narcissists love other narcissists on Instagram
Turns out selfie love breeds selfie love
The honour of the first proper selfie ever captured by camera goes to Robert Cornelius back in 1839 — #nofilter. As per social conventions of the time, Cornelius opted for zero smile. While there's no documentation providing any evidence that dour old Bobby was a narcissist, current scientific thought on the character of those drawn to selfie would suggest he leaned a little self-absorbed. In recent years, numerous studies touching on the psychology of selfies have revealed social media platforms to be a real draw to so called narcissists seeking to grace their friends with pouty pics and self-referencial status updates. Many in the behavioural science community think that, like a fly to honey, the opportunity for self-promotion offered by social media is just too strong for narcissists to ignore.
But new research suggests that narcissists may also be prone to send out a little selfie love to other narcissists. Interestingly, narcissists here were defined, in part, by other narcissists (they'd been pre-tested for traits of vanity). In the first of two experiments, Seunga Venus Jin of Sejong University had 116 narcissists rate online posts for negative narcissistic value (selfies and groupies were consistently rated as more narcissistic, again, by narcissists). A second experiment had another 160 subjects evaluate selfie success (measured in likes and followers) against their own NfP (or need for popularity). Venus told media that her study, which focused largely on their Instagram habits, asked one question others before had not: "Why do people not only post selfies but also 'like' and 'follow' others who post selfies?"
Curiously, Venus' data revealed that narcissists (the same who rated selfie posters as negatively narcissistic) also displayed another tendency: an inclination to both heart other selfies and to follow IG accounts that, like theirs, had plenty of selfies to show. So, if you're trying to up your following, maybe target online narcissists. Although consider that true clinical narcissists still remain relatively rare at about 1% of the population.
Case in point, Venus confirmed that her study "focused on 'grandiose narcissism' while not examining 'vulnerable narcissism'." The distinction is that grandiose narcissists are chronically selfish, extroverted, and typically seek out positions of power while vulnerable narcissists tend to be quiet or even socially anxious. A strong sense of entitlement is where the two overlap. Grandiose narcissists are also quite taken with their own physical appearance, making copious selfie sharing a bit of a flag. Still, as with all psychological profiles, there's a hierarchy that places each of us somewhere on the narcissistic selfie spectrum.
Most of us can readily get behind (or in front of) an occasional selfie - even despite ourselves. Humans typically enjoy taking and posting our own selfies and groupies (a selfie with friends) but pretty much hate everyone else's: it's called the "selfie-paradox" a term coined by Dr. Sarah Deifenbach, a professor of consumer psychology at the University of Munich. Her research last year showed that a considerable 77 percent of us take selfies as often as several times a day, a week or every month. Still, a hefty 82 percent of us would gladly opt for fewer selfies punctuating our feeds. As a relevant aside, do be wary of developing 'Selfitis' should you be driven by impulses that have you snapping numerous selfies daily (more than 6 is deemed problematic).
Though "selfies and groupies are interpreted as more negatively narcissistic than photos taken by others and neutral photos," says Venus, a "narcissistic personality similarity between the selfie poster and viewer mediates this effect." Put another way, a narcissist will be cool with your barrage of selfies because it mirrors their own.
Venus and her team write that narcissists are making good use of Instagram – a "post source's popularity and viewers' need for popularity interact to moderate the causal effect of post types on perceived narcissism." Translation: I'll celebrate your vanity if you have a large following because I too hope to have a large following. Or some cousin of "you scratch my selfie, and I'll scratch yours".
Still, selfies aren't just about getting strangers to heart your formidable beauty; they're also about celebrating our lives, social ties and the clickable events that galvanize them. Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and faculty at Fielding Graduate University, doesn't think selfies represent the death rattle of civilization or "the rise of narcissism." Instead, selfies for Rutledge can mark "positive human experiences, joy and playfulness, that have nothing to do social validation." Of course, they can also mark a particularly impressive good hair day. Make sure you get your angles right.
Happily though, Venus feels her data "offers the basis for future explanations of selfies and narcissism, by adding empirical evidence to the narcissism tolerance hypothesis." Hopefully, those future explanations will also save us from being branded categorical ego vacuums for posting a decidedly sharp #ootd.