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Exploring the potential impact of selfie angles on dating websites

Selfie angle choices reflect the evolutionary process and socio-cultural values and influence perceptions of attractiveness in dating and mate selection.

In recent years, taking and sharing selfies has become a widespread social phenomenon. By 2019, Instagram alone boasted 409 million selfies under the hashtag #selfie.

Particularly on dating websites, selfies serve as significant indicators for mate selection. They play an important role in shaping intentional impressions and achieving social goals. This then influences the transition from online relationships to real-world mate selection. This phenomenon raises interesting questions about the key aspects of selfies and their influencing factors.

Choosing a selfie angle for mate selection

One potentially important aspect of a selfie is the camera angles, which accentuate individuals’ features and serve important social functions. Generally, there are three kinds of selfie angles: upward angle (taken from below), downward (taken from above), and straight (taken parallel to the face).

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From an evolutionary perspective, gender-based mate selection may shape individuals’ choice of selfie angle. An upward angle accentuates a large jaw and signs of height, representing masculine traits like dominance and social status, which conforms to females’ mate preferences. In contrast, a downward angle emphasizes features like large eyes and forehead, which are associated with youth and attractiveness and conform to males’ mate preferences.

Additionally, gendered selfie angles may vary across cultures. While Western cultures, like the United States, exhibit a strong sense of gender equality, Chinese culture emphasizes traditional values of male dominance, displaying greater gender differences in mate preferences.

Furthermore, due to the varying attractiveness across different age groups in mate selection environments, age may also affect selfie angles. Altogether, gender, culture, and age may collectively influence an individual’s choice of selfie angle.

The study randomly chose 1,682 selfies from two popular dating websites in China and the United States. Subsequently, the researchers coded the selfies and assigned values to represent the three selfie angles, including upward, downward, and straight angles. By examining the effects of gender, culture, and age on selfie angles, they obtained interesting results.

Gender disparities in selfie angles

The study revealed distinct trends in selfie angles between males and females. Males predominantly favored the upward angle, while females took selfies more with the downward angle. Male preference for the upward selfie angle may be due to its ability to accentuate height and a large jaw, characteristics associated with dominance and social status. These traits align with traditional masculine ideals enhance males’ appeal, and increase the probability of female mate selection.

In contrast, the downward selfie angle puts females in a relatively lower body position, accentuating stereoscopic effects on the face. This angle highlights features such as slim figures, small faces, and large eyes. For females, an attractive figure is a sign of reproductive health that conforms to males’ evolutionary mating preferences. These findings suggest that despite advancements in technical presentation over time, human behaviour shaped by mate selection preferences remains fundamentally unchanged.

Cultural and age differences in selfie angles

When considering culture and age factors, gender disparities in selfie angles showed different patterns. Specifically, among young adults aged 18–30, researchers observed significant differences in selfie angles between males and females in China. Chinese females, in contrast to their male counterparts, showed a preference for taking selfies from a downward angle. Contrarily, researchers detected no such gender differences in the United States, where both males and females tended to use the straight angle. This observation may stem from the differences in mate preferences between genders across China and the United States.

Insights from cross-cultural studies revealed that males in China and the United States consistently prefer physically attractive females. This preference prompts females to present attractive characteristics, such as big eyes and slim cheeks, by adopting a downward angle when taking and posting selfies on dating websites. However, these social signals may be ineffective among females in the United States due to the prevailing call for gender equality and equal rights, as advocated by the gender equality movement.

Gender disparities in selfie angles among adults

Within the adults’ group (30–50 years old), gender differences were evident in both China and the United States. In China, adult females tended to take selfies from a more downward angle. Meanwhile, adult males tended to favour an upward angle.

In addition to the previously mentioned evolutionary perspectives, these findings could be interpreted by the traditional cultural values prevalent in China. In Chinese society, Confucianism deeply ingrains a strong emphasis on the core value of male dominance, shaping social cognitive biases.

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Furthermore, findings from the World Values Survey (WSV) indicate that males exhibit a lower average awareness of gender equality than females, and such differences are stronger in their early years. This suggests that the gender concept of adult males in China tends to be more traditional. Consequently, Chinese adult males may express their dominance through visual cues such as height, facial width, and a large jaw, often adopting a more upward selfie angle than adult females.

However, in the United States, researchers found that adult females tended to use a more downward selfie angle than adult males. This finding may be because older females are less attractive to males in a dating environment. This may motivate them to use visual appearance enhancement strategies, such as a downward selfie angle, to enhance their physical attractiveness and improve their dating chances.

These study results suggest that selfie angles are both an impression management strategy and a visual cue of mate selection, shaped by evolutionary and sociocultural factors. Rather than viewing selfie angles purely as variations between males and females, it is crucial to understand them within specific cultural contexts and age groups.

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Journal reference

Bai, R., He, L., Li, S., Xiang, R., & Xing, S. (2023). The effects of gender, culture, and age on selfie angle: interdependence of evolutionary and sociocultural processes. Current Psychology, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-04869-7