The Weirdly Fascinating Social Science of Selfies

Sample Finding: Women Average 150% Higher Head-Tilt Compared to Men

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If you've barely given much thought to the phenomenon of selfies, but are vaguely curious about the cultural implications, then you may be pleased to know that a group of geeks have more than overcompensated for your lack of initiative. Led by Lev Manovich, a professor of computer science at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and Moritz Stefaner, an information-visualization consultant based in Lilienthal, Germany, the Selfiecity project has come along to "investigate selfies using a mix of theoretic, artistic and quantitative methods."

Working with social-media data firehose company Gnip, the Selfiecity team conducted a truly crazy amount of micro-analysis, starting with a random selection of 120,000 Instagram photos taken in New York, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Bangkok and Moscow and drilling down for insights on gender behavior and even head-tilt. Among the findings:

  • "People take less selfies than often assumed. Depending on the city, only 3-5% of images we analysed were actually selfies."

  • "In every city we analyzed, there are significantly more women selfies than men selfies (from 1.3 times as many in Bangkok to 1.9 times more in Berlin). Moscow is a strong outlier -- here, we have 4.6 times more female than male selfies!"

  • "Most people in our photos are pretty young (23.7 estimated median age). Bangkok is the youngest city (21.0), whereas NYC is the oldest (25.3). Men's average age is higher than that of women in every city. Surprisingly, more older men (30) post selfies on Instagram than women."

  • "Women's selfies show more expressive poses; for instance, the average amount of head tilt is 150% higher than for men: (12.3° vs. 8.2°). Sao Paulo is most extreme -- there, the average head tilt for females is 16.9°!"

Big Data and data-viz fetishists should click right over to the site right now. The project was supported by CUNY, the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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