People can get false ideas about you from your online pictures

View of Young attractive tourist taking selfie in Paris

Have you taken a “selfie” and uploaded it to Instagram or Facebook? Many people have. “Selfies” are photos of yourself taken with the front-side camera of a smartphone and millions of people upload them every day. However, there’s a health warning with “selfies”. Not only are the camera angles and the wide-angle setting of the lens not flattering, you can also take inadvertent images. For instance, there are “selfies” that show you are having a great day out, when in fact you should be at work. Or that you have told your wife you are at work, who then sees your “selfie” having fun in the park. It all seems such innocent fun at the time, taking a snap of yourself having a good time.

But new psychological research reveals another problem with selfies. They don’t actually show your “self”.

Your face has 43 different muscles all working to present an image of you in the world. Those muscles contract and expand in varying and minuscule amounts to change your expressions, microsecond by microsecond. When we are with someone in the “real world” they subconsciously analyse all those tiny facial movements and use that information to work out what kind of mood you are in and what kind of person you are.

When you take a “selfie” you are capturing a split-second of your facial movement, which could be the transition from one micro expression to another. As a result, it turns out that selfies can lead to a false impression of the real you.

Photographs are just photographs

Why doesn’t this happen with traditional portrait photography? That’s because when you have a professional photograph taken the photographer will spend a lot of time getting you to produce lots of different facial expressions, taking dozens, if not hundreds of images and getting to know you as an individual. The result of that real world connection with you and the taking of multiple images means the photographer can then spot the real you in the images, discarding the ones that caught you mid-expression.

So, what can we learn from this new research?

  1. If you want the web to convey images of the real you – get professional photographs
  2. If you want people to know the real you – meet them in the real world so they can subconsciously connect

Selfies may be fun, but they do not help us relate to others as much as we might think.

As for “belfies” (look that up yourself if you want) that’s a whole new area of research for psychologists to explore….!


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