A new study sheds light on the link between assertive self-presentation tactics and selfie-posting behavior on social media. The research, published in The Journal of Social Media in Society, found that intimidatory tactics were associated with more selfie-posting behavior among women but not men.
“The effect of social media on people’s behavior is of increasing relevance, as more and more of people’s lives are spent interacting digitally,” said study author Phil Reed, a psychology professor at Swansea University. “Aggression and bullying is already a major problem, and it seems important to try and understand how this is manifest in the digital world. Also, it is far from clear that our traditional views of who is likely to aggress may simply not apply to the digital world, as this operates with very different (fewer) social constraints.”
The researchers recruited a sample of 150 participants (86 females, 64 males, average age of 27.45 years) through social media and email advertisements. The participants were asked about their daily hours spent online, the primary purpose of their internet use, and the number of selfies posted on social media in the previous month. They also completed two psychological assessments: the Self-Presentation Tactics Scale and the Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System scale.
The Self-Presentation Tactics Scale is a tool used to measure how people present themselves during social interactions. It consists of 38 items that ask about actions performed to get others to like them, to intimidate others, to project weak and dependent traits, to claim responsibility or credit for actions, to persuade others that the outcomes of their behavior are more positive, to associate themselves with others who are perceived positively, to produce negative evaluations of others, and to present themselves as morally worthy or having integrity.
The Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System scale, on the other hand, is used to measure avoidance behavior (or sensitivity to punishment) along with approach behavior (or sensitivity to reward).
The study found that 38% of participants spent 1-3 hours, 37% spent 4-7 hours, and 24% spent over 7 hours per day online. Social media was the primary use for 44%, followed by entertainment (22%), education (14%), shopping/banking (10%), gaming (8%), and pornography (2%). On average, participants had posted 3.41 selfies and 8.43 non-selfies in the previous month. Females posted about 5 selfies and 10 non-selfies a month, while males posted about 2 selfies and 6 non-selfies a month.
Assertive self-presentation tactics were positively associated with selfie posting among women, particularly for those who used more intimidation tactics. In other words, the more women agreed with statements such as “I behave in ways that make other people afraid of me,” the more selfies they tended to post online.
However, assertive self-presentation tactics were not associated with selfie posting among men. Instead, greater punishment avoidance (e.g. “I feel pretty worried or upset when I think or know somebody is angry at me”) was associated with more selfie posting for male participants. Self-presentation strategies did not predict non-selfie posting for either women or men.
The findings contrasts with previous studies conducted in real-world situations where women tend not to display aggression as strongly as men. The new study suggests that the lack of social constraints online may facilitate the expression of this aggressive facet of female personality.
“I think the study shows two things: the traditional gender stereotypes about aggression may well just be the result of societal norms, rather than any predispositions for particular genders to be more or less aggressive; and that social media has created an environment where different behaviors will surface, and is under much less control from people’s reactions than the real world,” Reed told PsyPost.
“The most surprising thing in the study was that it was very clear that, in terms of aggressive presentations, females were more actively aggressive than males – it may have been expected there would be less of a difference on social media than in the real world, but the reversal was quite surprising.”
But, like all research, the new study includes some caveats.
“We really need to examine aggression in a lot more ways than looking at self-presentation – we also need to see who the aggression is mostly directed at: is it at everyone, in general, or directed at specific groups,” Reed said.
The study, “Intimidatory Assertive Self-presentation in Selfie Posting is Greater in Females than Males“, was authored by Lisa Galbraith, Phil Reed, and Jo Saunders.