Passive-aggressive selfies? Study says women post images of themselves to intimidate others

SWANSEA, United Kingdom — Selfies and social media pretty much go hand-in-hand, but what are people really trying to convey when they post an image of themselves online? Surprisingly, researchers from Swansea University in Wales suggest that selfie-taking women may actually be letting out their inner aggression! Their study finds an association between female selfies and “intimidatory self-presentation strategies.”

How did researchers link selfies to higher levels of aggression? Study authors examined the posting of selfies and non-selfie pictures on social media by 150 people, all while separately assessing the degree by which each person adopted different types of self-presentation strategies, or how people act with others to make an impression. The average woman posted five selfies and 10 non-selfie images per month, while men posted an average of two selfies and six non-selfies on a monthly basis. It’s worth noting rates of selfies varied greatly from person to person, with some posting over 40 selfies a month.

Among female participants, the strongest predictor of selfie posting was the degree to which they adopted intimidatory self-presentational strategies. So, the more these women tended to take actions in the real world aimed at projecting a powerful and dangerous personality to induce fear in others, the more they posted selfies. The selfies themselves weren’t directed specifically at men or women, but seemingly at the entire online community.

Men actually take selfies to fit in

Men, on the other hand, displayed no relationship whatsoever between real-world intimidatory self-presentation and selfie posting. However, a desire to avoid “punishment,” or to fit in and be accepted, did predict selfie sharing among men. Interestingly, that finding in particular contradicts earlier studies conducted across real-world situations that concluded women do not display any associations between this aggressive characteristic and their behaviors as strongly as males.

“When the usual social constraints that operate in the ‘real world’ are removed, it could facilitate the expression of this aggressive facet of female personality,” Professor Phil Reed, from Swansea’s School of Psychology, says in a university release.

“These results suggest that traditional androcentric views of aggression need to be altered. Thinking of aggression by females as a result of some slightly male-like physiology in those females or as a mating strategy directed against other females will not do,” Prof. Reed continues.

“Rather, digital behavior suggests women are not programmed to be passive but are just as actively aggressive as men, and, in some circumstances, more so – and not just when getting a mate.”

This work follows earlier research conducted by the same team, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, which also found that intimidatory self-presentation displays a robust association with selfie posting by females.

The data also shows that while men tend to be more assertive than females in the real world, there was no difference in the use of real-world aggressive self-presentation strategies between genders. Moreover, men actually tended to show higher levels of ingratiation strategies in comparison to women.

“While males reported being more assertive in the real world, these behaviors were not always associated with their online behavior, where females tended to let their aggressive traits guide their behavior more than males. This may reflect the operation of a different set of social-role norms or their absence in online settings,” Prof. Reed concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Social Media in Society.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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