Final Major Project: Selfitis
“selfitis … is defined as the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy.”
– (Pinoy 2014)
The term “selfitis” first appeared as a hoax story by Pinoy both nationally and internationally in 2014. The claim was that the American Psychiatric Association was about to classify selfitis as an obsessive / compulsive mental disorder with three levels (borderline, acute, and chronic) that were determined by the frequency the ‘sufferer’ posted selfies on social media. (Psychiatric association did not declare selfie-taking a mental 2014).
Despite the original story being a hoax, research has been carried out into the effects of sharing photographs online and the impact this can have on intimacy, relationships, and one’s mental wellbeing.
Balakrishnan and Griffiths conducted a study that analytically explored the idea of selfitis. They collected data from 225 university students which enabled them to develop the Selfitis Behaviour Scale, which they went on to validate with an additional 400 students. (Balakrishnan and Griffiths 2017)
The research was able to confirm that there are three levels of the disorder as defined by Pinoy’s hoax story:
“Borderline selfitis: taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media
Acute selfitis: taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos on social media
Chronic selfitis: Uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self round the clock and posting the photos on social media more than six times a day”
– (Pinoy 2018)
During the course of their research, Balakrishnan and Griffiths identified six components of the selfitis disorder. Each component manifested itself differently across the levels of the disorder. The six components were identified as:-
self-confidence – complements and attention from others gives a feeling of improved self-image and confidence
attention seeking – looking for and needing attention from others on social media
modification of mood – feeling relaxed and happy when taking selfies
enhancement of environment – helping to remember the environment or being immersed in the moment
subjective conformity – feeling that selfies are essential to gain acceptance from others
social competition – needing “likes” on social media
Balakrishnan and Griffiths used their research to develop and validate the Selfitis Behaviour Scale, which they claim can be used to reliably assess selfitis in individuals.
“Selfitis Behaviour Scale
Taking selfies gives me a good feeling to better enjoy my environment
Sharing my selfies creates healthy competition with my friends and colleagues
I gain enormous attention by sharing my selfies on social media
I am able to reduce my stress level by taking selfies
I feel confident when I take a selfie
I gain more acceptance among my peer group when I take a selfie and share it on social media
I am able to express myself more in my environment through selfies
Taking different selfie poses helps increase my social status
I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media
Taking more selfies improves my mood and makes me feel happy
I become more positive about myself when I take selfies
I become a strong member of my peer group through selfie postings
Taking selfies provides better memories about the occasion and the experience
I post frequent selfies to get more ‘likes’ and comments on social media
By posting selfies, I expect my friends to appraise me
Taking selfies instantly modifies my mood
I take more selfies and look at them privately to increase my confidence
When I don’t take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group
I take selfies as trophies for future memories
I use photo editing tools to enhance my selfie to look better than others
Scoring: Responses are rated on a 5-point Likert scale: (5 = strongly agree; 4 = Agree; 3 = Neither Agree or Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 1 = Strongly Disagree). Scores are summed. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood of selfitis
Items 1, 7, 13, and 19 relate to environmental enhancement
Items 2, 8, 14 and 20 relate to social competition
Items 3, 9, and 15 relate to attention seeking
Items 4, 10, and 16 relate to mood modification
Items 5, 11, and 17 relate to self-confidence
Items 6, 12, and 18 relate to subjective conformity”
– (Balakrishnan and Griffiths 2017)
A major limitation of the research is, in my opinion, the scoring system. If a participant chose the answer “Neither Agree or Disagree” for every question, their score would be 60/100 (60%). This response is likely to be given to the questions if the participant has never taken a selfie and therefore has no opinion on the questions given. Yet not having an opinion for each question would place a person high up the selfitis scale. An article published in the Daily Mail in 2017, suggested that the scores resulting from the questions could be catergorised to indicate the level of selfitis suffered by an individual. They reported the scoring bands as “0-33 Borderline, 34-67 Acute, 68-100 Chronic” (The obsessive taking of selfies is a genuine mental disorder 2017). This would mean that the person with no opinion on the questions and a score of 60 would be classed as an acute selfitis sufferer. This indicates to me that the scoring system is flawed and the classification of each level reported by the Daily Mail has not been normalised and is misleading.
Other limitations are the age group and population used for the research. The study was carried out using university students where 90% were aged less than 25 years old. The population used was Indian, and there was no consideration of different populations or different cultures. The responses to the questions also required complete honesty on the part of the participants, so produced a subjective set of results.
The existence of this mental disorder does seem likely to me. My observations when scrolling through Facebook and Instagram are that there are more and more selfies being posted, often in a compulsive way. There are people in my social media network who post at least one selfie a day. The questions in the Selfitis Behaviour Scale are really interesting and insightful. Scored correctly, they could be used to generate useful and informative data. To explore the idea further, I intend to conduct my own survey using the Selfitis Behaviour Scale questions to see how my results compare to those reported by Balakrishnan and Griffiths. I will ensure that my survey covers a wider age range and, due to my social media network, it will include participants in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. I also intend to pay for the survey to reach younger people across these areas. This should give me a good balance of respondents. I will consider the scoring system used and apply a normalised scoring system to alleviate the flaws discussed above.
Balakrishnan, J. and Griffiths, M.D. 2017. “An Exploratory Study of “Selfitis” and the Development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale”. In International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16(3), 722-736.
Pinoy, P. 2014. “AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION MAKES IT OFFICIAL: ‘SELFIE’ A MENTAL DISORDER”. Adobochronicles.com [online]. Available at: https://adobochronicles.com/2014/03/31/american-psychiatric-association-makes-it-official-selfie-a-mental-disorder/ [accessed 13 June 2018].
Psychiatric association did not declare selfie-taking a mental. 2014. The Independent[online]. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/obsessive-selfie-taking-classified-as-a-mental-disorder-what-we-can-learn-from-a-hoax-9243442.html [accessed 14 June 2018].
The obsessive taking of selfies is a genuine mental disorder. 2017. Mail Online [online]. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5182413/Test-fit-selfitis-scale.html [accessed 14 June 2018].