It's easy to make fun of people with selfie sticks. Besides being simply a little ridiculous looking, the gizmos and the constant posing, preening and sharing that go along with them tend to make people look, well, a little vain and narcissistic.
Don't you have to be a little self-obsessed to be constantly taking pictures of yourself, 30-something old farts like me wonder. And isn't all that self presentation and digital curation taking time away from real human interaction in the real world?
Previously, science has supported these doubts with a handful of studies showing that the people who take the most selfies are indeed more narcissistic and have a higher opinion of themselves (at least among men) than those who are less frequent posters. Meanwhile, other research suggests that constant social media use tends to make us lonely and depressed.
Still, despite the snickers and the hand-wringing from psychologists, our social media accounts continue to be filled with smiling selfies and our phones crowded with photo apps. Are we just a bunch of selfie addicts with unhealthy psychological tendencies?
Maybe the selfie obsessives are onto something.
Nope, suggests a new study out of the University of California, Irvine. Far from being self-obsessed and sad, those who take a lot of selfies might actually be onto something, this latest research suggests. For young people, taking more selfies might actually be a good way to boost well-being.
The research by UCI computer scientist Yu Chen and colleagues offers a healthy counter-weight to previous research (and the technophobes who point to it). To conduct the study, Chen and colleagues rounded up 41 college students and closely monitored their moods and social media usage, including the number of selfies they posted for a week, as a baseline.
Next, these volunteers were asked to actively take more of one of three types of photos -- either a pic of themselves smiling, a snap of something they thought would make them happy, or a shot of something they thought would make their friends happy. In all three cases, taking more pictures was associated with greater reported happiness.
Caveats and takeaways
Now, of course, this study has its limitations. First, 41 is a really small number of subjects, so later research with more participants could find something different. And it's also true that being assigned to take more selfies isn't the same as being internally driven to take them endlessly of your own accord. It's entirely possible that those with pre-existing selfie mania have some psychological issues, while those pushed to share more happy pics benefit from the practice.
But even if that's true, this is still good to know. Rather than sniggering at selfie obsessives, it's worth reminding yourself that those who constantly document and review their lives may just be making themselves and their friends happier. Other research has found that recalling seemingly insignificant and everyday details of their past tends to bring people joy. Putting aside your pride and breaking out that selfie stick might make you a bit happier too.
It's a point UCI infomatics professor and study lead author Gloria Mark underlines. "You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use," she commented. "I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users."
What's your view of constant selfies: fun diversion or a sign of psychological issues?