I’m not sure you heard the news, but some handsome bastard at the University of Toronto published a paper about selfies, titled Selfie Indulgence: Self Favoring Biases in Perceptions of Selfies.

Day-umn, that scientist on the right, amirite?

It’s about how people who regularly take selfies overestimate how attractive and likable their selfies are, and it’s without hyperbole the most important and overall best science paper ever to be written.

Suck it, Darwin

Naturally, the international media was all over this work, because of its greatness, and all of the sudden the lead author was the world’s darling, and rightly so. Indeed, not only is he brilliant and sexy, but also charismatic enough to make them swoon over at the BBC Newshour, and kind enough to devote his limited time to news outlets like Shape magazine and Mic.com, and was front-page news over at Reddit. He took it all in stride, of course, because he has a heart of gold and just the best personality. He is really, truly, the absolute best.

Here he is, on a motivational speaking tour describing how, with lots of hard work and practice, you can be more like him.

Anyways, the research was covered by some media outlets. Sometimes, though, the media kind of misinterprets things. For example, the selfie research was about how regular selfie-takers overestimate their own selfies, which is odd because they aren’t all around narcissists, they just really like their selfies. This is not quite how it was reported.

“Selfies cause autism in newborns, study says”

This kind of stretch is fairly common. The week before the selfie study, another study was covered that showed that among people who stay friends with their ex-partners, people higher in dark triad traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) were more likely to stay friends for pragmatic reasons, like the chance for ex-sex. Less diabolical people stayed friends with exes for social or sentimental reasons. It makes sense, and is an interesting finding worthy of the news. Some media outlets took it differently, though.

“Of course! OJ was friends with his ex too!”

It’s not surprising that news sources may sometimes misrepresent science. The media needs to sell their news, and no matter how many people say they f*cking love science, studies on glycolysis disruption in nematodes don’t exactly move newspapers.

For example, this paper by my sister received little to no attention by any mainstream news site

So we really can’t blame the media for jazzing up the odd science study. The media has to earn the public’s money through sales, while scientists just get it from taxes.


Nonetheless, it’s time a scientist tells their own story about their research. Thus, I bring you Selfie Indulgence: What I Actually Did and What it Really Means, with No Kim Kardashian References.

Kim Kardashian just lost interest

So, what we did here was get a bunch of undergrads to come into the lab. We asked them whether or not they took selfies. Because these are undergrads, and this is 2016, the vast majority said yes. We had to wait until we had an even sample of people who didn’t take selfies, because that’s how science is done right.

I hold my research assistants to high standards

In the end, we had 198 people, because 200 would be over-the-top. About half were selfie-takers, the other half were not. I called this latter group “non-selfie-takers”, because I’m pretty clever in coming up with names.

Inventing catchy names is among the most crucial steps in the scientific process

We asked all of these people to take a selfie, and then, using the same smartphone, had a research assistant take a photo of them. I called that the “experimenter photo”, because I’m pretty clever in coming up with names.

It can be painful, being this smart

We had the undergrads fill out a narcissistic personality inventory (NPI) to check narcissism levels, figuring selfie-takers would score 100%. We then asked the undergrads to rate their own selfie and experimenter photo for how attractive and likable they thought they looked.


The non-selfie-takers thought they looked just as attractive and likable in their experimenter photos as they did in their selfies. The selfie-takers thought they looked more attractive and likable in their selfie than their experimenter photo. This shows that, in a shocking twist, selfie-takers liked their selfies more than photos of them taken by other people.

Especially participant #21

Because a manuscript with just that result would get flat rejected for being too “incremental” (i.e. worthless), I decided to get the photos rated by a bunch of other people too. We showed people the undergrads’ selfies and experimenter photos and had them rate the photos for attractiveness, likability, and narcissism. The online raters saw both selfies and experimenter photos, but it was counterbalanced so the online rater only saw an undergrad in either a selfie or an experimenter photo, not both, because I swat away potential confounds like Mutombo

Get that garbage outta here

The online raters thought that the selfies were less attractive, less likable, and more narcissistic than the experimenter photos. Importantly, they didn’t think that the selfie-takers themselves were less attractive or likable or narcissistic than the non-selfie-takers, they just didn’t like the selfies. Basically, a selfie looks worse to people than a photo taken by another person, regardless of who is in the picture.

Except outlier participants who had viewed the tape from The Ring

Now, almost every undergrad rated themselves as more attractive and likable than the online raters did, because no one is as good as they think. Sorry to break that to you. More interesting, though, is that the difference between the undergrads’ own ratings and the online ratings was by far the greatest for selfie-takers’ ratings of their own selfies.

At least,  I think that’s what this bar chart is trying to tell me. They speak in such riddles

In other words, the people who were farthest from “objective reality” (as rated by other people online) were the selfie-takers, specifically when they rated their own selfies. In other other words, selfie-takers think their selfies look better than they actually do.

May these results serve as a crushing blow to evildoers who try to feel good about themselves on the internet

It’s important to note that, according to our NPI, the selfie-takers weren’t actually any more narcissistic than the non-selfie-takers in real life. Other studies have been done on this, with different results, but rest assured I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

Or, translated to science speak: “the relationship is therefore somewhat unclear”

So, to summarize, selfie-takers think their selfies look better than photos of them taken by other people, but everyone else thinks selfies stink, no matter who is in the picture.


Selfie-takers might think their selfies look good because they are aware of selfie-strategies, or because they have total control over how their pictures end up. I “postulate” these ideas in the paper, because I don’t actually have any evidence to support them, but they’re probably right. I then say that people should exercise caution when posting selfies, as you might think they look good, but most people hate them.

Clearly, caution is not being exercised here

I also say a great deal about limitations and future directions and whatever, but this is all just fluff I had to put in to push the paper through review, in truth this paper has no limitations and I don’t care if someone else tries to follow it up or not, as long as they cite me.

It’s the collegial nature of science that makes it so rewarding

So there you have it. The selfie study, and what it actually shows. Now you too can chuckle smugly to yourself if you see a news report that gets it slightly wrong.

“Haha, look at these jerks, trying to promote science by making it accessible to the public

Honestly, though, stop it with the selfies.

Stop it, Kim

Dan has gone to work on his duckface. Have an idea for a column, or want to see your science covered here? Email Dan at dan@scienceninjas.ca 

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Dan Re