The Science of the selfie: Who posts them most often & why

ATLANTA — Appearances are (almost) everything when it comes to selfies. The social media and cultural phenomenon has become a staple for social media users. So researchers at Georgia Tech wanted to learn more about who posts selfies on social media more frequently and for what purpose.

Researchers combed through 2.5 million selfies posted to the social media platform Instagram to uncover what motivates people to take and post these pictures. They categorized them into 15 subsets, ranging from “appearance” — showing off one’s makeup, lips, body, face, etc. — to social, health & fitness, travel, among others.

Man taking a selfie
A new study finds that most people who take and post selfies on Instagram are women between the ages of 18 and 35, with photos focusing on appearance accounting for the vast majority.

The data showed that more than half (almost 52%) of the selfies surveyed fell into the “appearance” category, twice as much as the other 14 categories combined. Social selfies — that is ones snapped with friends, family, significant others, or even pets — comprised 14% of the pictures analyzed. Ethnicity pictures, that is photos that highlighted an individuals nationality or background, was third in the rankings at 13%.

Rounding out the the top five categories on the list were selfies centered around travel (7%), and health/fitness (5%).

The research team believes their study is first large-scale, empirical survey of selfies on social media.

“Just like on other social media channels, people project an identity that promotes their wealth, health and physical attractiveness,” says lead author, Julia Deeb-Swihart, in a news release. She believe snapping a photo of oneself is in a way a form of “identity performance,” a way for individuals to craft an unique presence for themselves that they can share on social media. “With selfies, we decide how to present ourselves to the audience, and the audience decides how it perceives you.”

The team segmented their data by age group as well. Not surprisingly, the majority of selfies they surveyed were posted by women (59%) or Instagram users between the ages of 18 and 35 (57%). Those under 18 posted 30% of the selfies, while only 13% came from users over 35.

The full study was presented in May 2017 at the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media.

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Ben Renner

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