Have you taken a selfie today, or will you by the time you go to bed? The answer is very likely yes. Google reports that its Android devices take 93 million selfies per day, and in one poll, 18-to-24-year-olds reported that every third photo they take is a selfie. Some subjects in one study reported taking more than eight selfies a day. For many of us, snapping and then posting selfies has become a way of life.

The only problem with this is that selfies are bad for our emotional health. Research has long shown a connection between social media use and negative emotions, but it wasn't necessarily clear exactly how this bad effect happened. In a fascinating new experiment, researchers got to see the dynamic in action. 

A group of 113 Canadian women between the ages of 16 and 29 volunteered for the experiment, in which each was given an iPad and taken to a private space. Some women were told to take a single selfie and post it to their social media account on either Facebook or Instagram. Some were also told to post a selfie to social media, but were allowed to take several shots and were given image editing software so they could improve their favorite photo before they posted it. And some, the control group, were simply given a travel article to read.

How does taking selfies make us feel?

Before and after the experiment, the women were evaluated on their mood and how they felt about themselves, completing several assessment tests. As expected, given the previous research, women who could take and post only one selfie experienced a significant decrease in confidence, and in feelings of attractiveness, and a significant increase in anxiety, compared to the control group. Researchers were curious as to whether being able to select a favorite photo, and then touch it up to make it even better would help the women feel better about themselves. But no, the women who could select and then improve their selfie still experienced the same increase in anxiety and decrease in feeling attractive as those who had only one unretouched image to choose from. Interestingly, though, the retouched selfie group did experience less of a loss of confidence than the unretouched group. And, researchers noted, there was no positive psychological effect whatsoever to posting the selfies, even those that had been carefully selected and touched up.

In other words, all those selfies you're taking? Even the ones that you take and re-take until they're just right, and add filters or other enhancements to make them look really great? The very best you can hope for from them is that they'll increase your anxiety and make you feel uglier, but not decrease your confidence the way lesser images would.

So why, exactly, are you taking so many selfies? Posting them makes you feel worse, not better. And you won't disappoint anyone if you stop. A recent survey showed that most Americans--even those who take selfies themselves--dislike it when others post them. 

Next time you're in a gorgeous place, or at an amazing event, and you feel you just have to post a selfie, try to focus both your smartphone and your attention at the interesting things behind you rather than how you yourself look. Or better yet, flip the camera around and just take a picture of what's in front of you. Your friends will be glad you did, and you'll feel better too.

Published on: May 31, 2019
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