Does anyone remember a time when a photo with someone's face in it wasn't called a selfie — it was just... a photo? Me neither. This style of photo is so entrenched in popular culture that we now classify ourselves according to personal selfie-style. So, what kind of selfie taker are you? Perhaps you've pondered this existential dilemma after reviewing a selection of 50 completely identical photos of your own face in front of a particularly spectacular/humorous/totally average backdrop, facial muscles still aching from holding the same expression for 50 takes, wrists aching even more.
Or perhaps it's never crossed your mind.
Either way, though, we've got answers now, thanks to science. According to a recent study of selfie takers (i.e. all of us), it's not vanity and self-interest that motivates most of us to snap photos of ourselves; depending on what type of person you are, there's a heck of a lot more to this photo phenomena. This reassuring conclusion was reached by five student researchers from Brigham Young University, who recently published their selfie investigation in Visual Communication Quarterly. They showed that selfie motivation does extend beyond self-obsession, arguing that they are an important documenting tool in society, today. “It’s important to recognize that not everyone is a narcissist,” study co-author Steven Holiday said in a BYU press release.
Holiday's study directed 46 participants who were asked to rank statements about motivations for taking a selfie in order from most to least aligned with their personality. These were then evaluated by the team, who classified three "types" of selfie-takers.
Which one are you? Here are the options:
1. The Communicator
If you take selfies in order to engage, educate and include your followers and family in an online discussion, then you're probably a Communicator. Co-author Maureen Elinzano explained in the press release, "[These people] are all about two-way communication." Think Lena Dunham, Lady Gaga, or Anne Hathaway uploading selfies to encourage their followers to vote, or to highlight an important feminist issue.
2. The Autobiographer
An EVA selfie. The space suit makes it very difficult to get a good selfie. I tried several today. pic.twitter.com/GvMEOj3ewu— Rick Mastracchio (@AstroRM) April 23, 2014
Autobiographers are those us who see the selfie as a key tool to record significant events — think Rick Mastracchio, who took an epic space selfie back in 2014. And although BYU News reports that those in the Autobiographer category still want others to see their photos, "they aren’t necessarily seeking the feedback and engagement that Communicators are."
3. The Self-Publicist
Co-author Harper Anderson said of this category of selfie-takers, "They're actually the smallest of the three groups." Apparently, Self-Publicists love documenting "their entire lives” — and in doing so, they are "hoping to present themselves and their stories in a positive light," Anderson commented.
Surprisingly, then, it seems that most people who love to take selfies aren't doing it to further their own agenda — although in my opinion, it makes sense that most of us are a little bit of each type of selfie-taker. I've certainly got a range of photos that would fit into each category on my timeline right now. And although the study is pretty small and further research is definitely needed to see if these archetypes apply to a wider cross-section of society, it's certainly nice to see the selfie painted in a positive light for once.