Alumna’s Research on Selfie Posting Gains National Media Attention

March 26, 2015 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Men who frequently post photos of themselves on social media are more likely to be narcissists or have psychopathic tendencies than men who don’t.

That’s according to a groundbreaking study co-authored by Margaret Rooney ’07, a doctoral student in communications at The Ohio State University.

The study, which was published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, was reported on widely by local and national media, including CNN, the Huffington PostPsychology Today, the Chicago Tribune and many blogs, websites and television stations.

Rooney said the research results piqued readers’ interest because social media has become such an integral part of how we communicate and express ourselves. “At the core, what we’re interested in is how these behaviors relate to our psychological makeup, our personality traits,” she said. “It’s interesting to say that there are relationships between these things.”

Courtney Waite Miller, an associate professor of communication studies at Elmhurst who encouraged Rooney to pursue a doctoral degree, said she was excited to hear about her former student’s research.

“Her study is an interesting intersection of communication in the form of self-presentation, social media use and individual difference variables,” Miller said. “I think it’s common to wonder what would make someone post a particular photo online, especially in some of the higher-profile cases we’ve seen in the media. Her research is starting to provide some answers to that question.”

The research was led by Jesse Fox, an OSU communications professor, and used data from an online survey of 800 American men, ages 18 to 40, that asked about social media behaviors and personality traits. The results indicated that men who frequently posted selfies scored higher for antisocial personality traits, such as Machiavellianism (manipulative and amoral) and narcissism (self-absorbed with an underlying insecurity). Those who frequently edited their selfies to make them look better scored high on self-objectification.

Rooney said it’s important to remember that we all have traces of antisocial personality traits, and warned against concluding that all men who scored higher for those traits are “psychopaths.” However, people with high scores in these areas are characterized by impulsivity and a lack of empathy, she said.

Rooney and Fox plan to conduct a similar study with women.

Rooney found her passion for communications at Elmhurst College after an advisor suggested she take a communications class as an elective.

“I walked in the class and truly found my passion. I then immediately changed my major from English to communications,” she said. “It’s something applicable to our lives. I can apply what I’m learning to my own relationships, and that is gratifying.”

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