MAY 08, 2018 6:23 AM PDT

Is "Selfitis" a Thing and How Do You Know If You Have It?

We've all seen them, and most of us have several stored on our phones, but could a simple photograph of ourselves, called a "selfie," change how we think and feel?

A study from scientists in the UK says it's possible. Coining the term "Selfitis" which means an obsession with taking selfies on cell phones, the researchers believe it's a real problem and could have an impact on self-esteem, stress and social skills

The study was a collaboration between scientists at Nottingham Trent University in England and the Thiagarajar School of Management in India. How was the decision to research this phenomenon made? It began after investigators heard of an online hoax that the American Psychological Association had classified selfitis as a legitimate mental health disorder. While that wasn't true, the researchers wondered if looking into it was worthwhile. They say their study proves that selfitis is a real condition (though they never claim that it's been classified as a mental disorder, as the original hoax story did) and they even developed the "Selfitis Behavior Scale" which asks patients to answer a series of questions about their online habits and selfies.

The researchers were able to develop the scale with the help of focus groups and surveys, which isn't exactly the Scientific Method, but they say that the data supports a disorder of selfitis. They tested the scale on 400 participants who answered the questions and scored themselves. The location of the study could have contributed to the results, however. Participants were all citizens of India, because that country has two factors that made researchers choose it. India has the most users of Facebook of any country and, not coincidentally, the highest number of "selfie deaths" where people were killed while taking selfies in dangerous locations. While that's a data-rich environment for studying the trend of selfies, the fact that so many deaths occur while taking the photos might indicate that the pool from which the conclusions were drawn was already rich with users so bent on getting the perfect shot that many of them died doing so.

The study results described findings that the team said fell into three levels of selfitis severity. Borderline selfitis is when a person takes a selfie at least three times a day but doesn't post every single photo on social media. Acute, the next level up, is when a person takes three or more selfies a day and posts all of them on multiple social media platforms. Finally, selfitis can reach the chronic stage. This is when at least six times a day (and usually more) a person takes selfies and has an "uncontrollable urge" to take and post each one.

When trying to determine why some people are so obsessed with selfie photos, the researchers found six motivating factors: Increased self-confidence, attention seeking, mood improvement, creating a record of memories, conforming to social groups around them and social competitiveness.

Dr. Janarthanan Balakrishnan who coordinated the research in India explained, "Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to ‘fit in' with those around them, and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviors. Now the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed; it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behavior, and what can be done to help people who are the most affected." The Selfitis Behavior Scale (SBS) can be found here

Sources: Nottingham Trent University  International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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