What would Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis who died 80 years ago, think of today’s social media?  

One would think he’d find its impact on the human psyche fascinating. A new study in the Journal of Research in Personality by Washington State University psychologists shows that the subject is indeed as fascinating as it is enlightening.

The big takeaway from the study is that those viewing social media posts perceived that those posting selfies were “almost uniformly viewed as less likeable, less successful, more insecure and less open to new experiences than individuals who share a greater number of posed photos taken by someone else,” according to a WSU news release.

But those who posted photos taken by others — posies — were not perceived as negatively as the selfie posters were.

“Even when two feeds had similar content, such as depictions of achievement or travel, feelings about the person who posted selfies were negative and feelings about the person who posted posies were positive,” said Chris Barry, WSU professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “It shows there are certain visual cues, independent of context, that elicit either a positive or negative response on social media.”

This study looks at only a teeny-tiny piece of the social media phenomenon. Examining the role of social media in our behavior and perceptions will certainly, over time, yield many discoveries — perhaps some that we might never have expected.

That’s what happened when the WSU study began.

Barry began researching possible links between Instagram activity and personality traits five years ago. The talk around water coolers, coffee shops and everywhere in between was that people who take lots of selfies and post them are likely narcissists.

So Barry decided to put the theory to the test. He conducted two studies investigating potential links between posting lots of selfies on Instagram and a narcissistic personality, according to the release. Yet, his research was inconclusive.

“We just weren’t finding anything,” Barry said. “That got us thinking that while posts on social media might not be indicative of the poster’s personality, other people might think they are. So, we decided to design another study to investigate.”

And, voilà, looking at social media from a different perspective yielded insight into how people who post on Instagram are perceived.

It’s not likely to end there. Given that in a great many situations that perception becomes reality, focusing on our feelings on what we see on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter could yield many more insights.

Until then, frequent selfie-posters might want to consider the bottom line of Barry’s study — you might be doing your image far more harm than good by posting a plethora of selfies.   

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart

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