The Scientific Link Between Selfies and Narcissism

Science has discovered a link between selfies and narcissism. Is anyone really surprised? But is this link something we should be aware of? How bad can it really get, right? It’s just a selfie, after all. They’re fun, popular, and easy to take and post.

Let’s examine how selfies and narcissism can go hand in hand:

Narcissism has some of the following traits:

  • Believing you’re above the rules
  • Quick to anger
  • Unilateral listening
  • Inability to take criticism
  • Preoccupation with self

Taking a selfie means:

  • Taking a photograph of yourself
  • Posting it on social media for everyone to see
  • People commenting on your photo

And social media isn’t without its own problems. Here’s just a few that scientists are attributing to too much time spent on social media.

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Depression
  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
  • Hypochondria
  • Voyeurism
  • Addiction
  • Body Dysmorphia
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Low Self Esteem

So where do selfies and narcissism meet?

Part of the issue lies with the vicious cycle posting a selfie online can start. Let’s take a look at how innocently and easily the process starts out:

Step 1: You take a photo of yourself that you want to share.

Step 2: You post that photo of yourself.

Step 3: Your friends comment on how amazing/thin/beautiful/handsome you look.

Step 4: You bask in the glow of their comments.

Step 5: You liked the experience so much you take another selfie and post it.

Step 6: You begin to believe you need their feedback to feel better about yourself.

Step 7: You begin to compare yourself to every photo a celebrity or friend posts. You decide everyone looks perfect but you.

Step 8: You take more photos in the hopes that the next photo will be flawless. Unfortunately, now all you see are your flaws.

Step 9: You begin to believe that everyone else’s posts all indicate they’re all living fabulous lives. You are not.

It seems rather easy to quickly get sucked into feeling as though you are less than everyone else. After all, pictures don’t lie, do they? But the fact is that according to UK psychiatrist Dr. David Veal, 2 out of 3 of his patients are now suffering from body dysmorphia.

Dr. Veal noticed an increase in body dysmorphia in his patients when camera phones became popular. The ease of the camera phone allowed the individual to repeatedly take photos of themselves and post them online.

Social media sites gave them just place to post them for all to see.

How Bad Can Selfies and Narcissism Get?

Just ask Veal’s patient Danny Bowman.

This British teenager became so obsessed with taking the perfect selfie he resorted to:

  • Spending 10 hours each day photographing himself
  • Taking over 200 photos of himself each day
  • Losing over 30 pounds
  • Becoming housebound for over 6 months
  • Avoiding people and friends
  • Dropping out of school
  • Taking 10 photos of himself immediately upon waking up
  • Attempting suicide when he grew frustrated by his inability to take the “perfect” photo

Part of his treatment includes taking his cell phone away for certain intervals during each day. He is now known as the UK’s first selfie addict.

Public health officials in the UK have grown concerned enough to announce that addictions to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are an illness.

So far over 100 people have signed up each year to get help. But there is more than one kind of selfie you can take.

Will What Kind of Selfie You Take Make a Difference?

Let’s examine the 3 types:

  1. Selfie by yourself
  2. Selfie of a group
  3. Selfie with a romantic partner

In the first studies examining the correlation between selfies and narcissism, the following narcissistic traits were examined:

  • Demanding admiration from others based on feelings of superiority
  • Belief you are entirely self-sufficient and don’t need others
  • Vanity
  • Belief that you should have authority over others

Let’s first remember that not everyone who scores a high narcissism ranking is going to have every single one of the above-listed qualities. In the first study done all participants showed a direct correlation between taking selfies and an increase in 3 out of 4 of the narcissistic traits.

Self-sufficiency was the only trait not affected by taking selfies. However, in the first set of studies, all the participants were men. Ohio State University completed the first study which involved 800 American men with ages ranging from 18-40.

The participants completed an online survey asking about their behavior with social media and posting photos. They also completed a questionnaire based on anti-social behaviors and self-objectification.

Jess Fox, lead author of that study said, “the more interesting finding is that they also score higher on this other anti-social personality trait, psychopathy, and are more prone to self-objectification.”

Fox also stated that men scored higher in narcissistic traits when they took the time to edit their selfie before posting it online. “It’s not surprising that men who post a lot of selfies and spend more time editing them are more narcissistic, but this is the first time it has actually been confirmed in a study.”

Is There a Difference in Narcissistic Behavior in Men vs. Women?

Apparently, there is. Since the initial study, 2 more studies were done in Poland involving both men and women. In these studies, the only narcissistic trait women showed when posting selfies were in increased demand for admiration. The Polish studies had 748 and 548 test subjects participating, respectively.

What’s also interesting to note is that the increased demand for admiration only showed up in women taking selfies (alone) and women taking selfies involving a romantic partner. There was no increase in a need for more attention when a woman posted a selfie involving a group of people.

All studies conducted so far involving men and/or women have also only shown a small correlation between taking a selfie and increased narcissism. Part of the issue is that certain factors may not yet be fully uncovered which can explain certain behaviors.

For most people taking a selfie and posting it would not be a sign of narcissism but instead may be simply someone showing off a new haircut or sharing a moment with friends.

Women also tend to use social media for different purposes than men. So is it true that social media has created more narcissists than ever before?

Certain types of photos suggest increased narcissism but further studies will have to be done on the link between why we take and post selfies. There is also more to learn about why there is a larger increase in narcissism with men over women.


Whether it’s someone taking selfies or you’ve noticed a new or confusing behavioral trait in a loved one, narcissism is a complicated matter.

If you feel you recognized certain traits mentioned above in yourself or in a loved one and are looking for more information on narcissism and what can be done, please contact us.