Men and women favor different camera angles when posting selfies on Instagram, study finds

According to new findings published in PLOS One, men and women differ when it comes to their preferred camera height for taking selfies. Moreover, these preferences vary depending on whether the selfie is being shared on Instagram or Tinder.

Cognitive scientists are beginning to show interest in the relatively new social practice of selfie-taking. According to study authors Alessandro Soranzo and Nicola Bruno, one approach has been to explore selfies as a type of non-verbal communication. The idea is that features of these self-photographs might offer insight into the intentions of the photo subject. These indications might even be akin to the non-verbal signals that people use during in-person communication.

“I was drawn to the topic because I am interested in aesthetics in arts,” said Soranzo, an associate professor working for the Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology (CeBSAP) at Sheffield Hallam University. “It has been found that to add charm to their artworks, artists favor showing the left side of their portraits, and this is particularly evident on female depictions.”

“A similar bias has been found more recently in selfies, taken by the general public,” the researcher explained. “It can be speculated that the preference to show the left cheek is unintentional. Bruno & Bertamini suggested that the left side is controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain and therefore more emotionally expressive. I find it fascinating that we are all (consciously or not) aware of this.”

In addition, a 2017 study led by Jennifer R. Sedgewick found that women on the Tinder dating platform show a greater preference for selfies taken from above compared to males. In light of these findings, Soranzo and Bruno wanted to see whether this same pattern would extend outside the dating context. While the motivation for sharing selfies on Tinder is to attract a partner, the motivations for selfie-sharing on Instagram are varied. If camera height preferences are found to differ across platforms, it could mean that camera angle is conveying something about the intentions of the photo taker.

To explore this, the researchers collected a dataset of selfies recently posted to Instagram. The dataset involved 10 selfies from each of 200 users (100 male and 100 female) resulting in a total of 2,000 selfies. The selfies were classified by three independent raters as either taken from above, below or from the front.

The initial analysis revealed that the most common camera height for female selfies was above, and the most common for male selfies was from the front. Both males and females were equally unlikely to take selfies from below.

Next, when researchers compared their data to Sedgewick and associates’ Tinder selfie data, differences were revealed. On Tinder, women were more likely to post selfies taken from the front than they were on Instagram. Males on Tinder were more likely to post selfies taken from below than they were on Instagram.

The researchers say that these findings suggest that the preferred camera angle for a selfie does, in fact, differ depending on the context, suggesting that selfie camera angles serve as a type of non-verbal communication about the photo taker’s intentions.

“We all generally look better when we take selfies from the top-left angle of our face (when taking a selfie, placing the camera away from the top left of your head),” Soranzo told PsyPost. “However, my research also showed that males using dating sites generally took selfies placing the camera slightly below their head, but still showing part of their left cheek. This may be for various reasons, one of them being to seem taller and more confident to others on the said dating site.”

The authors speculated that the fact that women on Tinder tended to post more neutral, frontal photos than they did on Instagram might be a reflection of social norms that discourage women from advertising their sexual availability.

“There are many questions left,” Soranzo said. “The most interesting to me, concerns the conscious/unconscious aspect. It makes sense that visual artists or professional photographers would know that some positions and angles are better than others, but how would the general public know it? At which level are we aware that our left side is more expressive? How do we know that that from the top we look better?

“With the development of phones equipped with cameras and preview screens, lots of people are increasingly taking self-portrait photographs, or ‘selfies’, for purposes ranging from social to the professional use,” he added. “Given their tremendous reach, popularity, and potential interest as a brand-new social phenomenon, selfies have now started to receive attention within the cognitive sciences and this interest will surely grow in the future.”

The study, “Nonverbal communication in selfies posted on Instagram: Another look at the effect of gender on vertical camera angle”, was authored by Alessandro Soranzo and Nicola Bruno.

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