Over the past decade, selfies have become a mainstay of popular culture. If the #selfie hashtag first appeared in 2004, it was the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010 that saw the images go viral. Three years later, the Oxford English Dictionary crowned the word “selfie” of the year.
We use selfies for a variety of purposes, ranging from social to professional. According to a 2018 survey, 82% of American adults under the age of 34 had posted a selfie on social media. Until the pandemic took a break from public gatherings, an entire industry was dedicated to creating selfie events and museums.
Given this enormous reach and popularity, the past four years have seen the phenomenon start to gain the attention of cognitive science. As recent studies have shown, including a recent one that I led, the way we take selfies – and the specific camera angles we choose – varies depending on what we’re planning on doing. make it.
The left bias
Since the 1970s, we have known that in the historical Western portrait, artists prefer to portray the left cheek of their models, especially when painting women. A 2017 study showed that when it comes to taking selfies, people tend to tilt their smartphones in order to photograph their own left cheek as well.
Patterns have also been detected in the way selfie-takers position their cameras vertically. Another 2017 selfie study posted on Tinder found that when looking to connect, women most often choose to take their selfies from above and men from below.
My colleagues and I looked at how this could vary on a different platform. We considered 2,000 selfies posted to a random sample of 200 different Instagram accounts – ten selfies per person. For each selfie, we recorded the user’s gender as it appears in the photo, and whether they took their selfie from above, below or from the front. We found that all users – regardless of gender – tended to place the camera above their heads.
These differences in camera position create different types of selfies. The question is why. But how do these choices relate to the use of selfies, to the platforms on which they are posted?
Most ‘how to take the best selfie’ guides point out that photographing your face from an angle and from above makes you look better.
This is confirmed by a study of Tinder selfies in which the authors determined that men taking selfies from below were, in part, an attempt to appear taller and therefore more masculine. It is said that women taking selfies from above, on the other hand, get the opposite and make them appear shorter and more feminine.
Elsewhere, research has focused on early trends in selfie poses and how some of them envisioned angling and composing your face to appear slimmer and more vulnerable – which also equates to being more attractive.
In trying to explain why a historical painter might have preferred the left side of his model’s face, the researchers explored several possibilities. These ranged from whether the artist was left-handed or right-handed, where the model was seated relative to the painter, or whether there was, in fact, a superiority of the left visual half-field in facial recognition: in d In other words, is the painted profile on the left of the canvas more easily perceived?
Data was inconclusive on all of these theories, however, except perhaps for the possibility, the study authors said, of basic visual preference. It could be, they suggested, that we just find the left side more attractive than the right side. In the selfies, left-handed and right-handed people showed the same left cheek bias – so here, too, it’s not about handling. Instead, this prevalence suggests that we know, instinctively, that showing our left side is the best option.
Recent evidence provides a clearer reason why this could be. The left side of the face is controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, which in turn is responsible for the communication of emotions. Thus, the left side is the most emotionally expressive.
Researchers have also found that we tend to perceive ourselves as more attractive and likeable in our selfies than in the photographs other people take of us.
The degree of expressiveness we seek depends on what we intend to communicate and the platform on which we communicate. By showing the left cheek – or pulling from above – we appear more expressive. The placement of the front camera, meanwhile, gives a neutral look.
Selfies, in their choice of pose and other pictorial characteristics, provide non-verbal, social and emotional cues to their viewers. These signals can be thought of as the 2D equivalent of the non-verbal signals we use in face-to-face communication.
In person, individuals control their posture and facial expressions, as well as their distance from each other, to express degrees of intimacy or avoidance. Since Edward Hall’s founding work in the 1960s, The Hidden Dimension, we’ve called this spacing behavior or proxemics.
In selfies, as in photography or cinematography, you only have a pictorial space to play with. But it also provides a set of proxemics: how the subject is oriented, any left-right asymmetry in the composition, issues of relative size between objects in the frame.
These variables, which are determined by the distance from the camera and, most importantly, the angle of the camera, help to communicate non-verbally the motivations, intentions or emotional states of the selfie taker.
It fits with how selfies have been defined as a form of self-disclosure. This is not just a person presenting or representing themselves, in pictorial form, in the manner of self-portraits (a difference that my current research examines), but a means of revealing personal information in a dialogue.
The disposable nature of the selfie sets it apart from the more thoughtful artistic intention of a self-portrait. Likewise, the way a selfie is all about context and interaction. As the writer, theorist and the person behind the Museum Selfies tumblr puts it, “Selfies are shared as part of a conversation.”
This article by Alessandro Soranzo, Experimental Psychology Reader, Sheffield Hallam University, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.