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Taking Selfies Distorts Our Self-Perception, Says New Study

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In today's harsh reality check news: You might not look as bomb in that selfie as you think you do. (Rough, we know.) In fact, if you want to come across as more attractive and likeable, and less narcissistic, you might want to consider curbing the practice in general. That's because people who regularly take selfies tend to overestimate how good looking and likeable they are, according to a new study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Researchers at the University of Toronto looked at a sample of 198 college students, 100 of whom identified as regular selfie-takers. Each student was asked to take a smartphone selfie as well as have their photo taken by another person. The students were then instructed to rate each of the photos, based on how attractive and likable they thought their friends would think they were in the photo if it were posted to social media. Then, an outside group of 178 strangers recruited online also rated the photos to indicate how attractive, likable, and narcissistic they thought the people in the photos were.

It turns out that all the students thought they would be seen as more attractive and likeable in both of their photos than the strangers actually rated them. This wasn't surprising—people often view themselves as more attractive, likeable, smart, and even fit than they really are. This phenomenon is called 'illusory superiority' or the 'better-than-average effect' (remember that from your college intro to psych class?) and leads people to perceive themselves as superior to a peer on most personality traits.

However, while the selfie-taking students believed they were more attractive and likeable in their selfies than in the photos taken of them by someone else, the external judges actually perceived those students to be less attractive, less likeable, and more narcissistic in the selfies than in the photos taken by others. (The non-selfie-takers viewed both photos similarly.) Read: You're better off posting a photo someone else takes of you than that selfie, even if you think your DIY shot catches all your best angles.

"While most people tend to overestimate how good they look in the first place, regular selfie-takers tend to go above and beyond with this self-favoring bias, overestimating how attractive their selfies look," explains lead study author Daniel Re, Ph.D. In other words: "The selfie-takers' ratings of themselves were farther away from objectivity." (It isn't all bad though; research also shows that taking a selfie in the gym can help you lose weight.)

It's relevant to note that the group of external reviewers did skew older—around 34 years old—but Re believes the results would be the same even with a younger sample. "Even though younger people might take more selfies and be more tolerant of seeing them, it's a self-serving format that people just don't quite like," he says. And, ironically, while people tend to view those who take selfies as vain and conceited, they don't apply the same set of rules to themselves, he says.

So what's one to do when we live in a selfie-obsessed society? "Exercise caution when posting, because if you're a frequent selfie-taker, you have the least accurate idea of how you're being perceived," suggests Re. The study authors concluded that while those who participate in the selfie trend within social media may not actually display more narcissism than those who abstain from selfie-taking, the research shows that you will be perceived as narcissistic by others nonetheless.

But, hey, if you're feelin' yourself—like these makeup-free celebs—go ahead and post. Sure, your perception of yourself may not totally be grounded in reality, but if channeling Kim K gives you a boost of confidence, more power to you. (Just please don't take them in these spots.)

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