Research Looks at ‘Selfies’ and their Impact on Mood and Behavior

CLEVELAND – Many of us are guilty of posting a few ‘selfies’ here and there on our social media accounts.

However, experts are looking at whether taking and sharing too many self- images is part of a bigger problem.

A recent study looked at a group of students and related their ‘selfie’ taking behavior to six categories: self-confidence, attention seeking, mood modification, environmental enhancement, conformity, and social competition.

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Researchers said that looking at the changing landscape of technology might help gain a better understanding of how over-using technology can lead to addictive behaviors.

Cleveland Clinic’s Scott Bea, PsyD, did not take part in the research, but said often times, people post ‘selfies’ to boost their mood or play a game of comparison.

“It ends up having to do something with our brain chemistry,” he said. “People are trying to treat their brain; stimulate positive chemistry and there’s a social comparison thing going on as well. We look at other people – they’re having great lives – I want to look like I’m having a great life, so I post my best moments or best photos out on the internet.”

Scott Bea, PsyD. said people often post ‘selfies’ to boost mood, but too much self-awareness may not be good for the psyche.

Dr. Bea said focusing too much on ourselves tends to enhance bad feelings – and sometimes we will take measures to try to counteract those bad feelings and they’re not always healthy.

“When that self-awareness becomes intense, we’re often chanting about what’s wrong with us – it’s a place we go to experience low mood states; anxiety, tension, and it all comes from how we interact with thoughts and a lot of times, thoughts about ourselves or our futures,” he said.

Another study shows how the distorting effect that occurs when we take pictures at a close ‘selfie’ distance is actually prompting an uptick in people seeking plastic surgery just for the purpose of looking better in pictures on social media platforms.

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Dr. Bea said gaining control over our own social media behavior comes down to setting limits for ourselves.

“Stay away from your phone for periods of time – try not to access it – so that you gain governance,” he said. “When we’re getting involved with our emotional brain, it really overrides our pre-frontal cortex – the part of our brain that helps make good decisions, plan and predict the future, and the consequences of our behaviors.” 

Dr. Bea said we don’t have to cut out ‘selfies’ all together to have a healthy relationship with social media. He said it’s okay to have some fun with it, but just don’t get swept away.

More on this research can be found in International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction and JAMA.