We all probably think that by using Facebook and Myspace for years, we had mastered the art of picking the correct profile picture by now. But, according to new research, we still are far from doing it well, and the problem might be our inbuilt biases of what we think we look like.
One of the researchers, the psychologist David White, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, says: “It could be that we perceive ourselves more positively than others do, in general. This may interfere with our ability to discriminate when trying to select the specific photo that gives the most positive impression.”
“Our study shows for the first time that people select more flattering profile images for complete strangers than they do for themselves.”
The study collected images of 102 students, sourcing 12 pictures of each individual from their Facebook accounts.They were asked to rate their own images, by giving a score for how attractive, trustworthy, dominant, confident, and competent they thought they are looking in each picture.
They also had to select which picture, according to their opinion, would be most likely to use for a Facebook profile, a professional profile, and a dating profile image.
Next up, 160 strangers rated the 12 images in the same way the students had, in order to see just how differently they assessed the same set of pictures.
Interestingly, the researchers noticed that when the students selected the profile images for themselves, they picked pictures that ranked less favourably with the strangers than profile images that other strangers had chosen.
“Selecting profile pictures for social, romantic, and professional sites is a common task in the digital age, and choosing the right image can be critical,” says David.
“We make inferences about an individual’s character and personality within a split second of seeing a photograph of their face. These first impressions can influence important decisions such as whether someone wants to befriend you, date you, or employ you.”
The fact that strangers were able to pick a better profile picture was a surprise to the researchers. After all, with so much experience choosing our own profile pictures, why aren’t we best at doing the job ourselves?
Although researchers aren’t entirely sure, they do have a few ideas. In the paper, researchers write:
“Although our results are surprising in the context of self-enhancement research, they may be related to the finding that people tend to perceive themselves more positively than other people.“
Let’s give this conclusion a try. Get someone else to pick your next profile picture – it might just score you that hot date or your next job.