Selfies are out, ‘posies’ are in

Chris Barry, Washington State University professor of psychology, holds examples of two kinds of photos — a selfie, on the left, and a posed photo, on the right. His study found that people reacted negatively to social media users with a lot of selfies and positively to those that posed for more pictures.

Those seeking social media acclaim may want to think twice before posting that selfie, according to new research conducted at Washington State University.

According to the study, those who post numerous selfies on social media are often regarded negatively by others, while the inverse is true of those who post posed pictures taken by another person, which researchers referred to as “posies.”

“It’s not so much focused on ‘what do your selfies tell others about your personality,’ it’s ‘how do others perceive you based on your selfies or what you post?’ ” said Chris Barry, WSU psychology professor and lead author of the study.

In the study, Barry said a group of undergraduates from the south were asked to fill out a questionnaire and gave researchers permission to use their 30 most recent Instagram posts. Those 30 posts were then shown to more than 100 WSU students who provided ratings of each Instagram account based on these 30 screenshots.

“Those who posted more selfies out of those 30 were rated as more lonely, lower self-esteem, less adventurous, less likeable,” Barry said. “But then the posies almost had an opposite effect on the ratings. … Those people were seen as more outgoing, more likable, more successful, more friend-worthy (and) having higher self-esteem.”

While these findings begin to paint the picture, Barry said there are likely more complicated mechanisms behind why people post and how those posts are perceived. For example, he said, this study excluded numerous other factors like captions and hashtags in favor of clearly illustrating the effect a picture has on its own

He said it is fair to presume that most people know the people who show up on their social media feeds and so could carry important context that informs their reaction to a given post.

“We purposely had students from different campuses in different parts of the United States rate them so that we could take familiarity out of it and just say, ‘do the pictures matter?’ ” he said. “In this case, the pictures matter — in reality, it’s going to be much more complex than that.”

In his study, Barry said the photos were also categorized under various themes. He said researchers found that posts emphasizing physical appearance — like a subject flexing in front of the mirror — were generally viewed more negatively, while those highlighting friendships were viewed more positively. He said this hints that the communicative theme of a post could play a pivotal role in how it’s perceived.

Barry said his next leg of research deals more with the perception of poster than the viewer but he expects the vein of study to continue. He said future experiments will likely try to tease out other pieces of the puzzle — whether factors like personal familiarity, or fame have some role to play in how a post is perceived.

“There’s just so many different reasons why people post what they post, but the point that seems to be coming more clear in the picture, at least in this initial study, is that it will play a role and how people evaluate you,” Barry said. “Audience is going to have a reaction — we’re gonna have a reaction — one way or the other.”


Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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