Selfitis — a genuine ‘psychological complex’

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Selfitis‘Selfitis’ – the obsessive taking of selfies on mobile phones – appears to be a real psychological condition according to a UK-India study.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the Thiagarajar School of Management in India began investigating the phenomenon after a hoax story appeared in the media in 2014 claiming ‘selfitis’ had been classed as a genuine mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

They have now confirmed its existence and developed the ‘Selfitis Behaviour Scale’ which can be used to assess its severity. The scale was developed using a large number of focus groups with 200 participants and the scale was tested via a survey of 400 participants.

Participants were based in India because the country has the most users on Facebook, as well as the highest number of deaths as a result of trying to take selfies in dangerous locations.

The findings confirmed that there are three levels of selfitis: borderline – taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media; acute – taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each one on social media; and chronic – uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self round the clock and posting the photos on social media more than six times a day.

Six motivating factors were identified, with selfitis sufferers typically seeking to increase their self-confidence, seek attention, improve their mood, connect with the environment around them (to create a record of memories), increase their conformity with the social group around them, as well as being socially competitive.

The prevalence of these factors determined the level of selfitis severity.

Dr Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioural addiction in Nottingham Trent University’s psychology department, said: “A few years ago, stories appeared in the media claiming that the condition of selfitis was to be classed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Whilst the story was revealed to be a hoax, it didn’t mean that the condition of selfitis didn’t exist. We have now appeared to confirm its existence and developed the world’s first Selfitis Behaviour Scale to assess the condition.”

His research colleague Dr Janarthanan Balakrishnan said: “Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to ‘fit in’ with those around them, and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviours. Now the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed, it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behaviour, and what can be done to help people who are the most affected.”

In 2014, stories appeared in national and international media claiming that the condition of Bselfitis^ (the obsessive taking of selfies) was to be classed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and that the condition could be borderline, acute, or chronic. However, the stories were a hoax but this did not stop empirical research being carried out into the concept. The present study empirically explored the concept and collected data on the existence of selfitis with respect to the three alleged levels (borderline, acute, and chronic) and developed the Selfitis Behavior Scale (SBS). Initially, focus group interviews with 225 Indian university students were carried out to generate potential items for the SBS. The SBS was then validated using 400 Indian university students via exploratory factor analysis (EFA). Six factors were identified in the EFA comprising environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification, self-confidence, and social conformity. The findings demonstrate that the SBS appears to be a reliable and valid instrument for assessing selfitis but that confirmatory studies are needed to validate the concept more rigorously.

Janarthanan Balakrishnan, Mark D Griffiths

Nottingham Trent University material
International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction abstract

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