I really loved James Franco’s New York Times essay about the “meaning of selfies.” A lot of his personal reflections about why people engage in this particular online self-presentation was very consistent with research about how posting content online is related to narcissism and attention-seeking. The analogy that he makes to avatars is also very interesting, because prior research on avatars has found that avatars are representations that are closer to one’s ideal self than real self. The avatar, however, is 100% susceptible to manipulation, while selfies, though they can be deceptive, have some element of truth. In other words, they are different in terms of how self-presentation can occur. Moreover, there has also been research about the decoration of one’s environment, such as bedroom or office, correlates to one’s personality. My own research on spatial customization in virtual worlds found that people’s virtual spaces are closer to their real, rather than ideal personality. Since selfies have both an environmental (spatial) component as well as the face component, it would interesting to see if the personality that people perceive of the actor through selfies is closer to his or her real or ideal personality.
I also really like how Franco distinguished between “normal” people and celebrities. Certainly one could hypothesize that normal people have different psychological reasons for taking selfies. However, given that normal people are also projecting their images to an audience, it could be that these two are not so different after all. One very interesting study idea would be to have people infer personalities of celebrities through their selfies, and then see how they correlate to the celebrity’s perception of their own actual personality and ideal personality. Trying to get celebrities to take personality surveys, however, may be difficult. An interesting empirical question, nonetheless!
Whether we are a celebrity or not, we know ourselves better than anyone. Why do we take selfies? We alone knows the answer – whether it’s for fame or for self expression.