Why do people include themselves in photos

Some selfies can help capture the meaning of an event.


Photographing has become an everyday activity, with over a billion active users sharing 95 million photographs daily on Instagram.

According to a new study, first-person images (capturing the scene as seen through one’s own eyes) best represent the physical experience of an event for individuals. However, third-person photos better depict the event’s deeper meaning. The current investigation suggests that the use and influence of perspective in personal photography follow this representational role. 

Lead author Zachary Niese, a Ph.D. graduate of The Ohio State University, said, “We found that people have a natural intuition about which perspective to take to capture what they want out of the photo.” 

According to research co-author Lisa Libby, an Ohio State professor of psychology, the findings also provide evidence that people upload selfies on sites like Instagram solely to advertise themselves.

She said, “These photos with you in it can document the bigger meaning of a moment. It doesn’t have to be vanity.”

Previous research revealed that taking personal images may be motivated by two factors: documenting the bodily sensation of an event or its more significant meaning. 

For example, Someone at the beach with a friend may take a shot of the ocean to capture the physical experience of a wonderful and restful day. Also, they could photograph themselves to capture the more significant meaning of spending time with a friend.

The researchers investigated the impact of perspective in personal photography in a series of six investigations, including 2,113 people. 

Participants in one online study read a scenario in which they might wish to take a photo, such as spending the day at the beach with a close friend. They were asked to rate how valuable the experience itself would be to them and the larger significance.

The results showed that the higher participants assessed the importance of the event, the more likely they claimed they would take a photo of themselves in it.

Another study showed people’s intuitions regarding which perspective best represents the experience or meaning of events. This study prompted participants to look at images they had posted to their Instagram accounts.

The most important details in this paragraph are that participants were asked to open their most recent Instagram post featuring one of their images and to choose whether they wanted to capture the larger significance or the physical sensation of the moment. 

The results revealed that if the photo had the participant in the shot, they were more likely to say that the photo made them think of the wider meaning of the moment, whereas photos that included how the setting looked from their visual perspective made them think of the physical experience. 

In another experiment, the researchers asked participants to open their most recent Instagram post, including one of their photographs

They were asked if they were attempting to capture the more significant meaning of the moment or the experience of the moment. The participants were then asked to rate the photo on a scale of 1 (not at all favorable) to 5 (very positive).

Libby said, “We found that people didn’t like their photo as much if there was a mismatch between the photo perspective and their goal in taking the photo.” 

For example, if they stated that their goal was to capture the moment’s essence, they preferred the shot taken in the third person, with themselves in the image.

Niese said, “I hope this study increases people’s knowledge about how photo perspective affects how they react to photos. That way, they can consciously choose the perspective to meet their goal.”

He also said. “This work suggests people also have very personal motives for taking photos. Even on social media, it appears that people are curating images for themselves to look back on to capture the experience or the meaning of the event.”

Overall, the findings suggest that people have an intuitive sense of what perspective to utilize in images to achieve their goals and that people may be uploading photos on Instagram and elsewhere for reasons other than what they want to share.

Journal Reference:

  1. Niese, Z. A., Libby, et al. Picturing Your Life: The Role of Imagery Perspective in Personal Photos. Social Psychological and Personality Science. DOI: 10.1177/19485506231163012


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