Selfiecity Project Analyzes 3,200 Instagram Selfie Photos Representing Five Global Cities; Reveals Differences by City and Gender

February 19, 2014

Selfiecity Project Analyzes 3,200 Instagram Selfie Photos Representing Five Global Cities; Reveals Differences by City and Gender

Media contact: Tanya Domi,, 212-817-7283

Selfiecity Project Analyzes 3,200 Instagram Selfie Photos Representing Five Global Cities; Reveals Differences by City and Gender

First quantitative project to analyze selfie photos using tools of statistics, data science, visualization, and art history

NEW YORK, Feb. 19, 2014 -- The Selfiecity Instagram project exhibiting 3,200 selfie photos from Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York, and Sao Paulo was launched today by project coordinator Lev Manovich, a computer science professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

The Selfiecity project aims to explore how people represent themselves using mobile photography through the Instagram social media platform.

Project findings demonstrate a marked difference between cities, with Bangkok and Sao Paulo selfie photographs having significantly more smiles than photos in other cities. Even stronger differences were found between genders: women take many more selfie photos, and their photos have more expressive poses than the photos taken by men. Research findings also show that people take selfie photos much less frequently than presumed -- depending on the city, only three to five percent of images captured in the study were selfie photographs.

The Selfiecity project also presents analysis of the demographics of people taking selfie photographs and their poses and expressions, along with innovative visualizations that assemble thousands of photos to reveal interesting data patterns. It also includes an interactive web application, Selfiexploratory, which enables visitors to filter and explore thousands of photos interactively to find new patterns and relationships.

While we found significant differences between female and male selfies and also between people of different cities, you don't have to take our word for it," said Manovich. "You can explore all 3,200 photographs through the interactive application on the Selfiecity website."

The Selfiecity project also includes essays authored by art historians and social media theory scholars. They place the phenomenon of selfie photography within the larger contexts of the history of photography and of social media images in general, and critically examine the project methods.


  • People take fewer selfies than is often assumed
    Depending on the city, only 3 to 5 percent of images we analyzed were actually selfies.
  • Significantly more women take selfie photographs
    In every city we analyzed, there are significantly more selfies by women than by men (from 1.3 times as many in Bangkok to 1.9 times more in Berlin). Moscow is a strong outlier-the project found 4.6 times more female than male selfies there. (While we don't have comparable data for other countries, in the United States the proportion of female to male Instagram users is close to 1:1).
  • A young people's sport? Indeed.
    Most people in our photos are fairly young (23.7 estimated median age). Bangkok is the youngest city (21.0), whereas New York City is the oldest (25.3). Men's average age is higher than that of women in every city. Surprisingly, more older men (30+) than older women post selfies on Instagram.
  • Bangkok, Sao Paulo are all smiles
    The project's mood analysis revealed that you can find lots of smiling faces in Bangkok (0.68 average smile score) and Sao Paulo (0.64). People taking selfies in Moscow smile the least (only 0.53 on the smile score scale).
  • Women strike more extreme poses, especially in Sao Paulo
    Women's selfies show more expressive poses; for instance, the average amount of head tilt is 150 percent higher for women than for men: (12.3 vs. 8.2 degrees). Sao Paulo is most extreme—there the average head tilt for females is 16.9 percent.


The collection of selfie photos from Instagram took many steps. The project's objective was to use only single-person true selfie images. The team partnered with Gnip, the world's largest provider of social data. After developing the software that interfaces with Gnip service, in September 2013 the team started to collect Instagram photos in different locations. After many tests, the project focused on central areas in five cities located in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America. In each city the team chose the central area, keeping these areas approximately the same geographical size.

Researchers wanted to establish equal conditions for city comparisons; therefore, the photos in all cities were collected during the same week (December 4-12, 2013). The numbers of photos shared on Instagram in the central areas of the five cities, according to Instagram data provided by Gnip, were New York City, 207K; Bangkok, 162K; Moscow,140K; Sao Paolo, 123K; and Berlin, 24K, for a total of 656K.After the group selected 640 true selfies from each city (3,200 total), state-of-the-art computer vision software from Orbeus Inc. ( analyzed the faces in the photos, generating a number of measurements, including face size, orientation, emotion, presence of glasses, presence of smile, whether eyes are closed or open, and others.

Using the project's Selfiexploratory web application, visitors can filter the photos by these measurements, by demographics, and by cities. The graphs are immediately updated, and the bottom area displays all photos that match. The result is an innovative combination of graphs showing patterns in the photos and a media browser showing actual photos.


The Selfiecity Instagram Project team members are: Dr. Lev Manovich, project coordinator; Moritz Stefaner, creative direction and data visualization; Jay Chow, data collection and data management; Dr. Mehrdad Yazdani, data analysis; Dr. Dominikus Baur, data visualization and interaction design; Alise Tifentale, Ph.D. candidate in art history at the Graduate Center, CUNY, theory and analysis; Nadav Hochman, Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Pittsburgh, and Daniel Goddmeyer, concept creation.

For more detailed background on the Selfiecity Project, please see the Background Fact Sheet and the project video.

**To interview Professor Lev Manovich or members of the Project team, please contact Tanya Domi, Director of Media Relations, The Graduate Center,, 212-817-7283.

About the Graduate Center, CUNY
The Graduate Center's (GC) mission is to prepare the next generation of scholars for careers in the academy, cultural institutions, and public service, to carry out advanced research and scholarship, and to increase public understanding of pressing matters of local and global significance. Approximately 4,500 students are enrolled in forty doctoral and master's programs, sustained by a wide range of financial support. Recognized for its scholarly leadership across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, the GC is also a platform for influential public intellectuals, who, through the GC's public programs, inform and enliven debate, and enrich the cultural life of New York City.