There have been 259 verified selfie deaths, called “killfies” – unintentional deaths while someone is taking a selfie – from 2011 to 2017, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. It is such an astonishing statistic that Kathryn Miles with Outside magazine set out to understand the psychology of selfies and why people would go to life-threatening risks to capture the perfect image of themselves.
Many of the deaths involved social media personalities and adventurers, including Canadian rapper Jon James McMurray who died last October after easing out onto the wing of a Cessna in flight while filming a music video, or travel bloggers Meenakshi Moorthy and Vishnu Viswanath, who fell 800 feet to their deaths from a popular rock outcrop at Yosemite.
But there have also been countless more near-death selfies, such as the woman last March who climbed over a barrier at an Arizona zoo to take a selfie with a jaguar and ended up seriously mauled, or the people who have been gored by bison at Yellowstone. While the majority of death selfies occurred while the picture-taker was engaged in risky behaviors, more than a quarter occurred during what was considered non-risky behavior.
Sarah Diefenbach, professor of consumer psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich and lead author of the 2017 research article The Selfie Paradox, told Miles that people take selfies for a variety of reasons including to communicate, to build self-esteem, to improve our self image, to record our personal experiences and, lately, to build personal brand. Will Storr, author of the book Selfie: How the West Became Obsessed, says our psyches have always wanted to record ourselves. Technology finally allows us that opportunity.
The issue, Miles explains, is that when people take photos of themselves, they have selective attention, or even inattentional blindness, to the point that they become unaware of what is happening around them.
And that, well, that can be life-ending.