Are Selfies the New Personality Test?

Social media is a communication medium that comes with its own language, etiquette and unspoken “rules.”   But with a generation of children being raised in a culture of social media, it’s affecting us, our behavior and our habits in ways researchers are just beginning to understand.

One phenomenon that is now ubiquitous to social media culture is the selfie. Overexposed and reviled in some circles, the selfie is considered by some the self- expression of the Me Generation.

But to researchers out of the Division of Psychology from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the selfie may actually tell us more than we realized – how you pose, where you take them, the position of the camera, and the expression on your face could all be factors used to assess your personality.

Researchers studied 123 selfie posters on a popular Chinese microblogging website that I similar in use to Twitter, called Sina Weibo.   Participants completed a personality questionnaire and another 107 Chinese students were asked to view the selfies and make assessments about the personalities of those pictured.

Researchers rated each selfie on 13 criteria:

  • whether the poster had aduck face;
  • if they pressed their lips together or not;
  • if they looked at the camera;
  • how much emotional positivity was shown;
  • the camera height;
  • if the camera in front or to the side;
  • the amount of face on view;
  • the amount of body on display;
  • whether location information was shown;
  • whether a public location was revealed;
  • if a private location was revealed;
  • if there was evidence of editing.

As reported in Computers in Human Behaviour, the study found some of this criteria correlated with the participants’ personalities. Researchers found:

  • Agreeableness: Those who scored higher in agreeableness (akin to friendliness) were more likely to show positive emotion in their selfies and to hold the camera in a lower position;
  • Conscientiousness: Those who were high-scorers on conscientiousness were less likely to reveal a private location in the background (presumably for privacy reasons);
  • Neuroticism: Those who scored higher in neuroticism (possible emotional instability) were more likely to use a duck face;
  • Openness: Those who scored higher in openness-to-experience correlated with showing more positive emotion.

The limits of the study are noted, that results may not apply to all cultures and because the owners rated their own personalities it may skew outcomes.  But researchers explained more studies in this area will help inform the accuracy of human and/or machine prediction of personality traits from selfies.