Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Instagram Selfies Can Affect Romantic Relationships in Ways You Wouldn't Expect


Social media broadcasts of body image satisfaction can lead to relationship strife, a new study suggests. Antonio Saba/CulturaRM/Getty Images
Social media broadcasts of body image satisfaction can lead to relationship strife, a new study suggests. Antonio Saba/CulturaRM/Getty Images

How much is too much when it comes to Instagram selfies? Researchers at Florida State University decided to tackle the topic and discovered that posting a lot of Instagram selfies may mean the kiss of death for romantic relationships.

New research suggests selfie sharing on social media can negatively affect a romantic relationship.
New research suggests selfie sharing on social media can negatively affect a romantic relationship.
Jacquie Boyd/Getty Images

Researchers Jessica Ridgway and Russell Clayton surveyed 420 Instagram users about the number of selfies they post to the app, how they felt about themselves later, and the status of their romantic relationships. Those surveyed were between ages 18 to 62: a pretty wide swath on the selfie spectrum.

The researchers found that a person's satisfaction with their body image, nuanced as that is, is related to a frequent postings of high-quality selfies. When others positively comment on a selfie, the selfie is perceived as high quality and this creates even more of a positive self-image. 

Plus, the feedback advances a self-promoting cycle: A selfie that blows up an Instagram feed will beget more selfies, inviting more commentary from social media followers, which can include strangers, acquaintances and exes. And while a positive body image is something healthy, social media sharing directly tests the boundaries of what's acceptable within a relationship.

"Although we cannot directly assume cause and effect due to the correlational nature of this study," says Russell Clayton, on of the study's authors, "the results here show that body image satisfaction can be detrimental to Instagram users' romantic relationships, especially when users' body image satisfaction is promoted in the form of Instagram selfie posts."

But before you hit all the right angles with that front-facing camera, take note of the Instagram selfie's dark side. The study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking reports that the more #instaselfies a person posts, the more likely conflict is to erupt in real-life relationships. The researchers defined conflict as it relates to selfie-posting behaviors, and the jealousy and bickering that arises from those posts.

TV personalities Kylie Jenner, Khlo Kardashian, Frankie J. Grande, and Kendall Jenner (L to R) take a group selfie in 2014.
TV personalities Kylie Jenner, Khlo Kardashian, Frankie J. Grande, and Kendall Jenner (L to R) take a group selfie in 2014.
Christopher Polk/AMA2014/Getty Images

This #instaconflict is, for many couples, a relationship killer. Basically, the more an Instagrammer broadcasts satisfaction with his or her own body image into social media, the more likely tension may arise in an existing relationship.

"I'm increasingly seeing couples facing struggles that stem from social media use," says Erika Labuzan-Lopez, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Houston, Texas. "It's important to set up boundaries on social media with your partner. Talk about how much time should be spent on it, the rules for interacting with others and what should be kept public versus private. With boundaries in place, conflict can often be avoided."

Once these social fences have been constructed, the risks of social media may lessen — at least when it comes to romantic relationships — and couples can tap into the positives.

"Social media can be a way for couples to connect," Labuzan-Lopez says. "If both partners are on the same page about how to use social media, it can be a fun thing to do together and build intimacy. Couples can Snapchat during the day or Instagram their adventures. There are many creative platforms available for couples to express themselves and their relationship."

That said, we don't see the trend abating at all. As of the writing of this article, searching for the hashtag "#selfie" on Instagram turned up more than 254 million snaps. Bottom line? If you're selfie-prone and in a relationship, talk to your partner about what's cool, and what's not.

 For a final thought on selfies, check out this Stuff Mom Never Told You video: