Students appreciate examples that are meaningful to them. How about a little selfie research?
After covering experiments in the Intro Psych research methods chapter, ask students to think about how they would do an experiment to find out if people perceived those who post a lot of selfies to Instagram differently than those who post a lot of “posies”—photos of themselves taken by other people. Emphasize that the question is not how the people actually are, but how others think they are.
Give students the independent variable: the last 30 Instagram photos—mostly selfies or mostly posies. Next, ask students to jot down some dependent variables. What might those different perceptions be? For example, would your students expect those with lots of selfies to be perceived as being more self-absorbed? After students have had a couple minutes to think about these, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to come up with their list of dependent variables. Once discussion has died down, ask each group to volunteer one dependent variable that has not already been identified by a previous group. Write the dependent variables where the class can see them. After each group has given one, ask students for any other dependent variables they came up with that haven’t already been named.
Explain that in an experimental study, researchers could create fake Instagram accounts and manipulate how many selfies and how many posies to show participants who would then rate the owners of those fake accounts on each of the dependent variables.
In a recent correlational study, researchers wanted to know exactly that. Do people perceived Instagram users differently depending on how many selfies or posies the users posted (Barry et al., 2019)? Participants in this study rated 30 individuals based on the last 30 photos posted to their Instagram accounts. Researchers measured 13 dependent variables. Remember, these are all perceptions people had of the Instagram users based on their last 30 photos: self-esteem, liking adventure, loneliness, extraversion, trying new things, success, likeability, dependability, would be a good friend, self-absorption, worried about being left out, emotionality, and considerate of others.
Those who had more selfies were perceived to:
Have low self-esteem
Not like adventure
Not be outgoing
Not like trying new things
Not be successful
Not be likeable
Those who had more posies were perceived to:
Have high self-esteem
Not be lonely
Like trying new things
Be a good friend
There were no significant correlations between number of selfies or number of posies and perceptions of being self-absorbed, worried about being left out, being emotional, or being considerate of others.
After sharing these results, ask students what follow-up research questions should be addressed next. Or, if students were to replicate this study, what changes would they make?
Barry, C. T., McDougall, K. H., Anderson, A. C., Perkins, M. D., Lee-Rowland, L. M., Bender, I., & Charles, N. E. (2019). ‘Check your selfie before you wreck your selfie’: Personality ratings of Instagram users as a function of self-image posts. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 103843. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.07.001