The psychology behind why tourists take nude photos

Jaylene Cook, 25, didn't think her nude photo on Mt Taranaki would offend anyone.
INSTAGRAM/Jaylene Cook

Jaylene Cook, 25, didn't think her nude photo on Mt Taranaki would offend anyone.

Playboy model Jaylene Cook's decision to pose nude atop Mt Taranaki is just the latest example of a tourist sharing a naked selfie online. Whatever the intention of the poster of such a pic, they can cause offence, particularly when the traveller is posing at an important, or even sacred, landmark. 

Cook, 25, said she didn't think her photo would offend anyone, but Maori academic Dennis Ngawhare said it disrespected the mountain. She's not the first traveller to attract ire for sharing a nudie picture - it's a trend that has been continuing for years and shows no signs of abating. 

Two American sisters were arrested in Cambodia in 2015 for taking nude photos of each other  at the country's holy Angkor Wat temple. And that same year, a group of Western tourists were jailed in Malaysia after posing for naked photos on Mt Kinabalu, a sacred peak to the local people. 

And they're just among those who faced repercussions. There are countless websites, blogs and social media groups dedicated to naked travel shots. So, what possesses people to strip off at tourist hot-spots and share the photographic evidence with their entire social network?

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The Playmate has been travelling around New Zealand.
INSTAGRAM/Jaylene Cook

The Playmate has been travelling around New Zealand.


Ron Kramer, a senior sociology lecturer at the University of Auckland, said he believes the phenomenon is an example of technologies creating new behaviours. Much as the television altered the family dynamic, focusing individuals' attention on it rather than each other, Kramer said social media is changing the way we think about ourselves and others. 

While some studies have suggested that narcissism lies behind our desire to share photos online, Kramer thinks most posters are after social recognition. 

Two American sister were arrested after taking naked photos at Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

Two American sister were arrested after taking naked photos at Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

"One outcome of social media is that it's almost as if you don't exist if you don't share things on social media; that you haven't really been to a place if you haven't posted a photo of yourself there. Image sharing is effectively a game of social status, and self-validation perhaps. It's a bit like buying a flash car to prove your worth."

That so many women share nude or scantily-clad shots of themselves online shows that many still think their value is tied up with their looks, he said. 


Social media's blurring of the boundary between public and private is another reason people can be blase about sharing revealing pictures online, Kramer said. 

"That edge gets pushed further and further and people feel less and less concerned by what they share. There's no such thing as too much information anymore."

This, in turn, means people need to post more attention-grabbing pictures to stand out. Hence, the rise in naked travel selfies. 

Kramer suspects that Cook's photo atop Mt Taranaki was financially motivated, as many images on social media are these days. 

"To me, it seems that there were pretty clear economic dimensions in this case," he said. 

Many posters use social media as a form of advertising, hoping to attract a large following, he said, adding that pictures of scantily clad women in exotic locales effectively amount to economic exploitation. 

Kramer's comments align with research by the UCLA Centre for Digital Behaviour which found that our perception of what is normal in our social networks affects our own behaviour. 

A 2012 study found that college students who saw more sexually suggestive photos of their peers on Facebook assumed that more of those peers were having unprotected sex with strangers. They were also more likely than the group who saw less suggestive photos to say they planned to have sex without condoms in future. 

"These studies suggest the potential power of social networks to affect ... behaviours by altering perceptions of peer norms," the study authors said. 

Four Western tourists who posed naked on top of Malaysia's tallest peak were blamed by some for a deadly earthquake six ...

Four Western tourists who posed naked on top of Malaysia's tallest peak were blamed by some for a deadly earthquake six days later.

Are nudie pic posters narcissistic psychopaths?

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A study which appeared in academic journal, Personality and Individual Differences in 2015 looked at the relationship between posting selfies, photo editing and personality. 

The authors looked at self-objectification and three personality traits known as the "Dark Triad": narcissism, psychopathy and machiavellianism, Gwendolyn Seidman, an associate professor of psychology at Albright College in the US wrote in an article for Psychology Today

The research found that narcissism and self-objectification were associated with spending more time on social networking sites and editing photos.

Posting multiple selfies was related to higher narcissism and psychopathy, while machiavellianism was found to be unrelated.

The study suggested that narcissists are more likely to share selfies and take extra effort to ensure they look their best.

Men with psychopathic characteristics also posted a lot of selfies, but didn't edit them any more than their non-psycopathic counterparts. The sample studied didn't include women. 

The results also showed that men who see their bodies as objects are more likely to edit their photos. 

A separate 2010 study found that both narcissism and low self-esteem are related to greater Facebook use, Seidman wrote.  

 - Stuff


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