Jul 17, 2014

Are Selfies Creating a Generation of Narcissists? Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Children's Health, talks about whether selfies are creating a generation of narcissists.

Some say that selfies are creating a generation of narcissists. Others argue that selfies and social networking sites are simply reflecting an old human tendency, just on a more public forum. Still, others provide an alternative perspective on the potential utility of selfies.

A simple online search of “selfies and narcissism” readily elicits provocative headlines stating that science has determined that selfies cause narcissism and that they are linked to addiction and mental illness.

To be clear, science has not determined this (at least not yet). To date, no credible research studies exploring the relationship between selfies and mental health have been published in professional peer-reviewed journals.

One study of college students has shown, however, that higher levels of narcissism were associated with more likely selecting Facebook profile pictures (not necessarily selfies) that emphasize one’s physical attractiveness and personality.

Believe in Your Selfie

Nevertheless, people high in narcissism are not the only ones who post their best images – most people do.

Frequent posting of selfies and shameless self-promotion can be genuinely irritating to some people. Social comparison may be another reason that some individuals dislike selfies.

Seeing attractive posts from friends may cause some people to feel dissatisfied with their own images, which may cause them to feel worse about themselves and reinforce their disdain for selfies. They also may see the posts as a subtle threat to their own narcissistic tendencies, causing them to protect their own image by dismissing all selfies in general as trivial, attention-seeking or, ironically, narcissistic. Of course some people simply find the word “selfie” annoying.

Clinical vs. Subclinical Narcissism

Girl in Pink Selfie

Most people have a degree of subclinical narcissism with regard to self-love and yearning for admiration. It seems reasonable that individuals with a bent toward narcissism would be naturally drawn to the large, public social networking stage from which to self-promote.

However, this should be distinguished from clinical narcissism (known as narcissistic personality disorder), which is present in less than 1% of the general population and is described as a pervasive pattern of inflated grandiosity, lack of empathy and persistent need for admiration.

So are selfies creating a generation of narcissists, subclinical or otherwise? The verdict seems to still be out. Perhaps the “selfie generation” is no more narcissistic than any other generation. They simply have found a more efficient way of self-promoting and self-expressing, thanks to technology.

Tips for Parents

  1. The best thing for parents to do is serve as a guide in the process. In this way, selfies may not need to be as much of a cause for concern, as they are a unique opportunity for parents to connect with their teens.
  2. Parents should educate their teens that the selfies people post are only one aspect of those individuals. They should discuss with their teens the dangers of falling prey to social comparison, particularly if they mistakenly interpret others’ selfies as an accurate reflection of those individuals as a whole.
  3. Parents should also discuss with them the consideration of temporarily “unfollowing” individuals that make them feel inferior or worse about themselves.

Return to our blog tomorrow for our final article in this selfie series about “selfie-steem” and relationships. Do your kids take selfies? Do you take them?

Leave us a comment to let us know what you think about the selfie generation.