The next time you’re standing at the edge of a scenic cliff or on top of a waterfall, take care when you have the urge to snap a quick selfie. It could very well be the last thing you do.

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More than 250 people worldwide have died while taking selfies in the last six years, according to a new study from researchers associated with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a group of public medical colleges based in New Delhi. The findings, which analyzed news reports of the 259 selfie-related deaths from October 2011 to November 2017, were published in the July-August edition of the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.

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So, what is behind this odd statistic?

If you hold your camera straight out, you’ll take a selfie that accurately represents what you really look like. But what if you hold the camera above or below face level? When you take a selfie from above, you make the face and eyes look larger, so you appear shorter and younger. And if you photograph yourself from below, you emphasize your jaw, making yourself look taller and more dominant.

Florida State University psychologist Anastasia Makhanova and her colleagues tested the hypothesis that people would manipulate camera angle when taking selfies as an impression-management strategy. The rationale for this idea is derived from evolutionary theory.

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So, is evolution to blame for so many deaths by selfie?  Are we struggling to get the perfect angle to look younger or more dominant?

Makhanova and colleagues argue, people will manipulate the camera angle of their selfies depending on their intended audience. In one study, they examined self-portraits posted by men and women on internet dating and professional-networking sites. In this case, the internet dating sites were viewed as contexts for intersexual attraction, and the professional-network sites as contexts for intrasexual competition.

Specifically, they made the following predictions:

  • Men will take selfies from below when their audience is other men (to show dominance).
  • Men will take selfies straight on when their audience is women (to show supportiveness).
  • Women will take selfies from above when their audience is men (to show submission).
  • Women will take selfies straight on when their audience is other women (to show supportiveness).

This is exactly the pattern of results that Makhanova and colleagues obtained. But this was just an observational study, and the researchers wondered if they could produce these effects experimentally. So they approached students on campus, handed them a camera and asked them to take a selfie. Half of the participants were told their picture would be viewed by members of the same sex, and the other half were told it would be shown to members of the opposite sex. Again, the results patterned as predicted.

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One possible way to prevent selfie deaths would be “no selfie zones”. Banning them in certain areas such as bodies of water, mountain peaks and at the top of tall buildings.

Efforts to dissuade people from taking dangerous selfies have already been attempted in multiple countries, including India, Russia and Indonesia.

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Annotated Version of the Russian Selfie Warning Infographic

Three years ago, Russia launched a “Safe Selfie” campaign, which featured the slogan, “Even a million ‘likes’ on social media are not worth your life and well-being,” the BBC reported. An informational graphic with icons of “bad selfie ideas” — highlighting stick figures posing on power poles and while holding guns — was also distributed, Jain noted in his study.

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In 2016, Mumbai declared 16 “no selfie zones” across the city following a slew of selfie-related deaths, the Guardian reported. Earlier this year, a national park in Indonesia announced it would be working to create a safe spot for photos after a hiker died taking a selfie, according to the Jakarta Post.

So, it is vital to be safe when taking a selfie.  The risks are high if situational awareness is diminished to the point of placing one’s self into harms way.  But then, maybe this is just as Charles Darwin prescribed, a form of nature’s natural selection process to eliminate the weakest amongst us?

 

References:

Chiu, A. (2018). More than 250 people worldwide have died taking selfies, study finds. Washington Post. Retrieved on October 4, 2018 from, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/10/03/more-than-250-people-worldwide-have-died-taking-selfies-study-finds/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cf51d1ac0111

Ludden, D. (2017). The Psychology of Selfies. Psychology Today. Retrieved on October 4, 2018 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/talking-apes/201706/the-psychology-selfies

All photographs were taken at Niagara Fall, Ontario

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.

He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 13 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.