What does your selfie say about you?

Selfie is a new form of self-expression in this digital age. In this post, I will discuss our research on how selfies reveal the personality of their owners and how people judge others’ personality based on selfies (Qiu, Lu, Qu, & Zhu, 2015).

Personality expression in social media

Psychological research has shown that personality can be revealed in social media, such as Facebook profiles (Back et al. 2010), the number of photos and albums on Facebook (Eftekhar, Fullwood, & Morris, 2014), and words used in tweets (Qiu, Lin, Ramsay, & Yang, 2012). However, little is known about the relationship between selfies and personality. Do selfies reflect their owner’s personality? Can people predict others’ personality based on selfies?

Can photos reflect personality and why selfie might be different?

Past studies have shown that photos contain cues related to personality traits. For example, smiling was associated with extraversion (Naumann, Vazire, Rentfrow, & Gosling, 2009) and flashy clothing was associated with narcissism (Vazire, Naumann, Rentfrow, & Gosling, 2008) in portraits taken by others. 

Selfie differs from other types of photos in two ways. First, selfie gives users full control of how the photo is taken. Users can control their facial expression, camera position, and objects in the background.  Second, the motivation for taking selfie can be different from those for other types of photos. Selfie is often used for self-expression and social sharing in social media. Users may try to express their personality through their selfies. However, they may also employ impression management strategies to create socially desirable self-image (Lin, Tov, & Qiu, 2014).

 So, what did the study find?

A collection of 123 selfies from Sina Weibo (a popular microblogging website in China) was coded based on thirteen cues. Selfie owners completed Big Five personality measurement. Results showed that agreeable individuals were likely to show positive emotion and take their selfie from below.  Conscientious individuals were less likely to reveal private location such as bedroom in their selfies, probably due to their concern of privacy. Individuals higher in neuroticism were more likely to make duckface. None of the cues were related to extraversion.

Eight undergraduate students worked as judges to predict personality from selfies. They could only accurately predict one personality dimension: openness to experience. This is likely because they relied on invalid cues in their judgment. For example, they used whether the selfie contained positive facial emotion and pressed lips to judge extraversion. Their rating of conscientiousness was related to showing public information, positive emotion, and not showing duckface in selfies. Higher rating of neuroticism was related to not showing positive emotions but showing duckface. Finally, judgers rated people who showed full face and pressing lips in selfies as having lower level of openness.


Our research shows that selfies contained personality-related cues. However, people could not accurately judge others’ personality based on selfies, possibly because selfie-owners used impression management strategies so that the typical cue-personality associations, such as smiling and extraversion, become invalid. Our study provides (a) new empirical evidence of how social media is related to personality, (b) a coding scheme for analyzing selfies, and (c) a set of cues that can be used to predict personality from selfies.



Back, M. D., Stopfer, J. M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S. C., Egloff, B., et al. (2010). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization. Psychological Science, 21(3), 372–374.

Eftekhar, A., Fullwood, C., & Morris, N. (2014). Capturing personality from Facebook photos and photo-related activities: How much exposure do you need? Computers in Human Behavior, 37, 162–170.

Qiu, L., Lin, H., Ramsay, J., & Yang, F. (2012b). You are what you tweet: Personality expression and perception on twitter. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(6), 710–718.

Qiu, L., Lu, J., Qu, W., & Zhu, T. (2015). What does your selfie say about you? Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 443–449.

Naumann, L. P., Vazire, S., Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2009). Personality judgments based on physical appearance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(12), 1661–1671.

Vazire, S., Naumann, L. P., Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2008). Portrait of a narcissist: Manifestations of narcissism in physical appearance. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(6), 1439–1447.

Hall, J. A., & Pennington, N. (2013). Self-monitoring, honesty, and cue use on Facebook: The relationship with user extraversion and conscientiousness. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1556–1564.

Lin, H., Tov, W., & Qiu, L. (2014). Emotional disclosure on social networking sites: The role of network structure and psychological needs. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 342–350.