Are you your image?

This is about how people misunderstand what they think they see and, therefore, begs immense questions about what they really believe.

I was driving this morning to Mandeville when I was listening to the BBC World Service. The program was about new discoveries in neuroscience. One burning topic, currently, is about the importance of facial images. Questions are often raised about what sight of a person's face may convey, positive or negative. How much bias comes into play, once a face is seen?

A political analyst was commenting on the fact that the facial image of political candidates could have a big impact on how people responded when asked to vote, and that this impact is greater amongst those people who knew nothing or nearly nothing about politics; about 25% of the voting population fell into this category. That 25% is not a trivial amount of people; and in any election could be enough to swing the votes in favour of one candidate or another.

One of the commentators was asked to look at two pictures of a man's face. The commentator, an expert in neuroscience, herself, looked at the first image and said she saw a man whose face was angry and his clenched first above his head showed signs of aggression. She was shown the second picture of the same man and his expression; this time the man held in his hand a pair of dirty underwear. She wasn't sure, but she thought his face showed disgust. The presenter then told her the man's expressions were the same, but the context had been changed with editing. The neuroscientist was appalled at her misjudgment, or that she'd judged, at all.

But, people judge, right. Look at those images of Mona Lisa; all the same or each different? Yet, their judgement is often badly flawed and filled with internal angst.

Now, I'm no neuroscientist, but I do take great interest in how people react to things. Professionally, that was important for negotiations and policy-making. When someone asked 'Can you trust the Minister?' how was I to reach a conclusion? Words? Acts? Looks? All? Hearsay from others? When my high school head boy was reported to have committed suicide, at Cambridge University, in the 1960s, what signs could I recall that he might have been so tortured to want to take his life? None. His face was always a picture of calm and collectedness. His voice was never more than the right pitch. He was always so poised. He was a brilliant student. Who really can judge others?

I had an interesting conversation the other day when someone mentioned to me how I posted images of myself 'all the time'. Comments like that are always a bit odd, as opposed to 'I see your letters in the papers, all the time'. The tone of delivery tells whether this is a good or bad thing. When the word 'narcissistic' is added, the implications are clear.

A part of me pondered where people draw lines. If I were formally engaged to do something, like post pictures of myself, does that render it different in the public eye? In other words, does Simon Crosskill get comments like 'I see your face on TV all the time!'? Would he be better as a commentator as a silhouette on TV? If that seems absurd, let's leave it there.

But, the claim (even allowing for some exaggeration) wasn't even vaguely true.

If you look at my social media profiles on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you find lots of pictures that I post but amongst the pictures I post there are not that many pictures of myself. Maybe, it's reticular activation: once my face has been seen, it seems to appear everywhere. A little like 'Big Brother'.

What I tend to do is show pictures of things I'm doing or places where I am, mainly because some friends said they liked to see what goes on in Jamaica, etc. (I even got a bunch of complaints when, some months ago, I stopped posting pictures. What a demanding public!) But, showing pictures of things is not the same as showing pictures of myself. Now, I know I took the pictures, but they could easily be stock photos or images others have taken. They seem to be of things I like to do, so it's easier to believe they are mine, etc.

Now, a number of studies exist that show the use of social media can be related (weakly) to narcissistic behaviors. But, who is going to rank the narcissism of the 2 billion users of Facebook, or the 500 million on Instagram? I'm not counting Twitter because it's quite a different space, and I came to it and still use it as a collaborative space for sharing information and ideas.

But, is one picture of a pierced navel or a tattoo equivalent to a picture of a sliced mango on the narcissism scale? Is a picture of a child's prize acceptance better than a picture of an isolated beach with a pair of feet in the foreground?

However, as I said in my case I found it hard to understand the accusation not least because with social media these days, it's possible with analytics to check exactly what has been posted in social media. The analytics show I've posted more pictures of my friends playing golf, Jamaican sunsets and sunrises, Jamaican fruit and vegetables, golf balls, my now-dead dog, than I have of myself. 🤔🙄

So, how does the perception that I have been posting 'all the time' pictures of myself gain currency? Is it possible that without my knowing it, I've been posting images of myself subliminally? Is it possible that within those pictures of fruit, golf balls, sunrises and sunsets, and my pictures of people that I play golf with that they're are images of myself included within? Or is it utter BS? 🤔😩

Now, if posting pictures of oneself is supposedly narcissistic, I've no idea what wearing make-up, jewelry, baubles and beads is supposed to mean. Self-promotions are self-promotions, right? Or, is one man's or woman's self-promotion better than another's?🤔💃🏾 Read the 'narcissistic mask'. Note, that there are 'normal' and 'pathological' strains of narcissism and they cross:

'At best, people high in normal narcissism tend to be outgoing (extraverted) but at worst, they have a strong sense of entitlement, expecting others to go out of their way to make their lives easier and better.  Both pathological and normal narcissism contain maladaptive elements, but the balance is shifted toward adaptive in the normal form.  Leaders may be high on healthy narcissism and perform decades of service to their profession or the public without incident. Add in a dose of the pathological variety, however, and they disappear behind the grandiosity that masks their inner feelings of weakness.'

Humans are, at best, often a mass of self-contradictions.

I look in the mirror and see myself naked, holding my briefs over my head. (I know they're torn and are destined for the bin.) My wife walks in and sees me…flaunting my underwear naked in the bathroom. Your eyes don't lie! Which image of me do you want to see and believe?

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)