Chronic Selfie-Taking Men More Likely to Exhibit Narcissistic and Psychopathic Traits, Study Shows

A man takes a selfie in an untitled installation by artists Dinos and Jake Chapman at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, southern England. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The contemporary #selfie craze, like the Myspace mirror picture frenzy of the mid-2000s, is a curious thing. Why do so many of us flood the already saturated Internet with photographs of ourselves at the gym, or at brunch? Is it to be a part of the conversation? Shameless self-promotion? New research from Ohio State University suggests that excessive selfie-taking may point to something more insidious: Men who overload the Internet with selfies are more likely to exhibit psychopathic or narcissistic qualities than those who don't.

Published January 7 in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, the study found that men who reported taking extra time to edit selfies with Photoshop or other programs before posting them online also exhibited high levels of self-objectification, which means they liken themselves to sex objects instead of people, a mode of thinking that can lead to such problems as eating disorders and depression.

For the study, 800 men between the ages of 18 and 40 answered an online questionnaire that asked them to describe how much time they spent on five of the most popular networking sites, including Facebook, Twittier, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. The survey asked participants to estimate how many photos of themselves they had taken and posted in the span of one week, and to divulge how frequently they used cropping or photographic filters to make themselves appear more attractive.

Researchers then used a measure called the Dark Triad to determine whether participants' answers fell into the spectrum of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Narcissism stems from insecurity, but manifests itself as entitlement and egocentrism; psychopathy is defined by antisocial behavior, as well impulsive tendencies and a complete lack of empathy; and Machiavellianism is a term used to describe people who are manipulative and cynical. Machs, psychopaths and narcissists are all characterized by aggression, deception and calculated self-promotion, according to the study, portions of which were used in a larger survey conducted earlier last fall by Glamour, as part of the magazine's body issue, but didn't have sufficient enough data for women.

Online, men who exhibit Dark Triad traits have been linked to cyberbullying, trolling and coercing people to engage in sex, according to the study's lead researcher, Jesse Fox. This isn't to say that excessively selfie-posting fellows are the next Patrick Batemans, but the data showed that they had higher incidences of antisocial personality traits associated with psychopathy and narcissism.

In an interview with Newsweek, Fox said her motivation for conducting the study came from wondering how people used social networking sites. "The way that social networking sites are designed, it's kind of easy to deceive and misrepresent yourself," she said. "So I wanted to see if those Dark Triad traits could predict certain behaviors and how people are self-presenting on those sites."

Those exhibiting higher incidences of narcissism and psychopathy reported posting more selfies and spending more time online than those who didn't exhibit such traits, the study found. It said narcissism was a predictor of photo editing behaviors, but not Machiavellianism and psychopathy, because the latter two are more characterized by impulsivity than the calculated approach suggested by the act of altering images.

The study is the first to examine personal implications of the selfie surge across a wide demographic. Prior research about social interaction and selfies has focused solely on college-age men. A 2013 study found that men typically take twice as many selfies as women do because it is a socially acceptable -- and validated -- form of vanity for men.

Fox suggests that the #selfie phenomenon draws from our reality-television-flooded, paparazzi-driven culture. "People constantly feel like they have to offer this photographic proof of what's going on" in their lives, she said. "Instead of having very highly formalized, controlled, posed environments of elite celebrities, now it's more of a tendency of always being on camera."

It's interesting to note that a recent trend in fashion photography features prominent models proudly exhibiting their unedited and unretouched photographs. Most recently, fashion maven Kate Moss posed unretouched for Vogue Italia.

Researchers also believe that social media may be an outlet for "cheater strategies" that allow narcissistic or psychopathic individuals to achieve a measure of social validation despite having antisocial personalities. So perhaps it's best to step lightly when dealing with fellows who spend 24/7 on Instagram and take part in another recent craze: wielding selfie sticks.