If you take a selfie, have you noticed that your phone plays a trick on you?
When you use its front-facing camera, the image on the phone’s screen is flipped, as it would be if you see your reflection in a mirror.
Click the button to take a photo, though, and the image stored by the camera is generally unmirrored.
Sometimes people feel dissatisfied with photos of themselves, especially if selfie-taking is a somewhat infrequent activity. It turns out that this is partly because we often unconsciously favour self-images that have been flipped, mirror-like.
In 1977, long before the invention of smartphones, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, demonstrated this in a fascinating experiment.
They asked participants to choose their favourite photo when presented with both their true image and their mirror image.
The majority chose the mirror image, even though they claimed they did so because the lighting was better or it was a more flattering angle.
Most simply didn’t realise that one image had been flipped.
Another intriguing aspect of the research was that participants’ romantic partners tended to favour the unflipped images.
Of course, at the heart of this is that people prefer pictures that match up to what they see most frequently.
We see ourselves in the mirror all the time when we brush teeth, put on make-up, or shave. So that’s the picture we carry.
However, we tend to see people we’re close to face-to-face, not in the mirror, therefore favouring unflipped images.
By the way, when Snapchat launched in 2011 (from a Stanford dorm room a few hundred yards from where I’m sitting) its founders capitalised on people’s love for their mirror image by not unflipping selfies when they were recorded. Interesting.
Incidentally, experts on selfie-taking suggest that a way to free yourself from preferring mirror images is simply to take plenty of selfies, so your brain gets used to true images.
So now you have an excuse.
Actually, though, my real mission in writing about mirror-image preference today is to get us thinking about the mental pictures we form of ourselves.
I’m well aware, perhaps you are too, that the self-image I carry in my head can bear little resemblance to the picture others have of me.
And I think this can be challenging, because self-acceptance is a key plank in our psychological well-being, and all too often we can be overly hard on ourselves when it comes to what we might view as our weaknesses.
Maybe, though, it’s possible to use the analogy of a mirror in order to reframe weaknesses?
Let’s see if I can demonstrate what I mean by revealing three of what I perceive to be my own shortcomings.
Off the top of my head, then, here are three (of rather too many):
1. Work-wise, I worry that I spread myself across too many different projects.
2. I don’t think I’m sufficiently motivated by making money.
3. I sometimes believe I fail to socialise enough with new people.
Let’s now, though, apply a mirror to those three issues:
1. By working on a wide range of ideas and projects, I’m able to apply learning from one area into another.
2. If I was ruthlessly and solely driven by earning money, I’d lose the undoubted joy of working on Moodnudges, which of course leads to my relationship with you.
3. Avoiding parties doesn’t mean I dislike the company of other people, far from it. But by focusing my attention on a smaller number of people, I believe I to get to know them, and care for them, in a deeper way.
Suddenly those weaknesses sound a little better, don’t they?
Of course this approach to self-acceptance shouldn’t prevent me, rightly, thinking about ways in which I could work on these weaknesses.
There would be nothing wrong, for example, in ensuring that I don’t take on so many projects that I lose focus. Perhaps one or two could go on the backburner.
A little (but just a little) more concentration on money matters might be no bad thing.
And, occasionally, it might do me good to step out of my comfort zone to meet new people.
What’s most important, however, is to gracefully accept that – like all people – I have my weaknesses.
It’s just that they may not be quite as destructive as they could appear to me at first glance.
Why not consider applying this mirror technique to what you believe may be your own weaknesses (whether or not others would agree)?
Remember, you’re looking for the positive, flipside of qualities you might wish you didn’t have.
If you try it and reach helpful conclusions, I know I’d love to hear about them, as I’m sure would our other readers.