This year, the term ‘selfie’ turns 21. It was first used by an Australian man, Nathan Hope, in September 2002. However, even in this age of selfies, there is a lack of deep understanding of their semantics and the classification of different types of selfies.
To address this gap, a new study, led by researchers from the University of Bamberg, in Germany, investigated how people use selfies to communicate and what information people derive from them.
Previous studies have shown that people taking selfies have three main aims: self-expression, documentation, and performance. However, there isn’t enough research on the meanings people attribute to selfies, as explained by a press statement. The new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Communication, aimed to address this gap by examining how viewers understand different types of selfies.
“Most research addresses direct visual factors, neglecting associative factors that viewers have in mind when browsing through our selfie-oriented world,” senior author Claus-Christian Carbon said in the press release. In this study, the researchers used personal reports and associations to describe and categorise selfies systematically.
For the study, the scientists created a test dataset from a database of selfies called Selfiecity. They used 1,001 selfies without any text and took them on mobile phones. The 132 respondents’ first impressions were sorted into 26 categories. For example, ‘mood’ covered comments the respondents made about the selfie-taker’s mood, the statement explains. These were analysed to understand how frequently these categories appeared in responses, and if they appeared together.
Meanwhile, through cluster analysis of participants’ responses, the five ‘semantic profiles’ of selfies were identified, the press statement adds. The largest was ‘aesthetics’, which referred to pictures that showed off style or aesthetic experience. The term ‘imagination’ was used for photos which led the participants to imagine where the selfie-taker was or what they were doing. This was followed by ‘trait’, which is an umbrella term for photos which elicited personality-related terms. ‘State’ looked at the mood or atmosphere and ‘theory of mind’ referred to pictures that made participants assume the selfie-taker’s motive or identity.
Each cluster showed a strong association to different categories from respondents' first impressions. This suggested the respondents were picking up on visual language, which people use to communicate different aspects of their moods or personalities, the press release explained.
“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 in the statement. “It shows how effective selfies can be in terms of communication.”