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January 5, 2016       

Selfies: A Sign of Low Self-esteem? Think Again
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Van Gogh's Selfie
Culture often determines mental illness. If the majority of people experienced mania, it would not be considered abnormal. Instead, it would be the natural functioning of human beings. So, when 98% of our youth post selfies, why do we see it as a potential problem? Researchers look at this phenomena with the viewpoint that many had when rock and roll first burst onto the scene. It was new, loud, and different, and therefore, unnatural. Older adults viewed rock and roll as perverse, as the destruction of the youth and society.

However, we did not find that to be true with rock and roll—now it is part of our culture and the idea that something could be wrong with it seems at best naive, and at worst, paranoid. And the same is true of selfies. Researchers found that taking and posting selfies is not a sign of low self-esteem or narcissism. It's possible that the opposite is true—those of a certain age who don't post selfies may have low self-esteem (Barry et al., 2015).

Instead, selfies may represent a time of cultural change. As much as older adults may not want to change, we need to recognize that we were part of cultural changes in our youth. Today's youth are only continuing the process. As Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said more than 2500 years ago: “the only constant is change.” The youth are forever changing the culture.

Barry, C. T., Doucette, H., Loflin, D. C., Rivera-Hudson, N., & Herrington, L. L. (2015). “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1037/ppm0000089

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