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Decoding The Hidden Meanings Of Selfies: A Scientific Analysis

Scientists analyze over 1,000 selfies to decode their hidden meanings.

Scientists analyzed reactions to more than 1,000 selfies to explain how we use them to communicate, according to a study on Frontiers in Communication.

“Although the term ‘selfies’ is now celebrating its 21st birthday,” said Tobias Schneider, study lead author of the study at the University of Bamberg,  “Although selfies are known in art history for nearly 200 years in photography and more than 500 years in paintings, we still lack a clear classification of the different types of selfies.”

A couple of young women taking a selfie on the side of the street. Research has show that selfies were used to aiming for self-expression, documentation, and performance. (ANDREA PIACQUADIO/PEXELS)

German researchers investigated the little-known semantics, or meaning, behind selfies – despite it being easier to share a self-portrait than ever before.

Previous studies have established that people taking a selfie often have three main aims: self-expression, documentation, and performance.

Some scientists have used accompanying hashtags and other metadata to decipher the meanings people try to convey with selfies – but this doesn’t consider the picture itself.

To understand what kinds of meaning people ascribe to different selfies, the researchers asked people to describe their first impressions of a sample of selfies. These associations could then be compiled to work out how different types of selfie are understood by viewers.

Doctoral student Schneider added: “Most research addresses direct visual factors, neglecting associative factors that viewers have in mind when browsing through our selfie-oriented world.

“Here we used personal reports and associations to describe and categorize selfies in a systematic way.”

The scientists created their test dataset from a database of selfies, using only self-portraits without any text, taken by a mobile camera, using an individual’s own hands or a selfie stick.

A young female taking a selfie with her dog. Expressions of selfies are common on social media platforms. (KAMPUS PRODUCTION/PEXELS)

The study recruited 132 participants online, using an algorithm to select 15 random selfies for each participant to review and react to while ensuring that each selfie was evaluated by roughly the same amount of people.

These impressions provided were then processed into 26 different categories and then analyzed to investigate how often these categories appeared in responses.
The largest categories of selfies identified were ‘aesthetics’ ‘imagination’ and ‘traits, or images that elicited personality-related terms.

Less popular, but still substantial, were the categories ‘state’, pictures that looked at mood or atmosphere, and ‘theory of mind’, images that caused the respondents to make assumptions about a selfie-taker’s motives or ideas.

“We were quite impressed how often the category ‘theory of mind’ was expressed because this is a very sophisticated way of communicating inner feelings and thoughts,” said Schneider. “It shows how effective selfies can be in terms of communication.”

The scientists pointed out that these semantic profiles may not be expressed or understood in the same way worldwide, so more research is needed.

“We need more free reports on selfies, more descriptions of how people feel about the depicted persons and scenes, in order to better understand how selfies are used as a compact way of communicating to others,” said Schneider.



Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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