About 1.8 billion people worldwide have an active Facebook account; about a third of employers search online for information about job candidates; and about half of adults who are searching for a relationship have used online dating.
But with all of this collective experience, we suck at choosing our own profile pictures. Despite what logic would suggest, science says we are far more likely to choose an unflattering shot of ourselves than a total stranger.
According to a study just released from University of New South Wales, we have an inbuilt bias about what we think they look like that interferes with our ability to select photos that give the most favourable first impression.
“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 UNSW psychologist Dr David White. “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 study involved more than 600 people and a range of experiments. In one trial, participants were asked to indicate the likelihood that images of their own face, and images of a stranger’s face, would be used as profile pictures on social networking sites such as Facebook, dating sites such as Match.com, and a professional site such as LinkedIn.
Other people recruited via the internet then assessed these photos for social traits such as attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, competence and confidence.
The study showed that people were able to select images of themselves that “accentuated the desired characteristic for a site”, such as attractiveness for a dating site and professionalism for a work site. However, the self-selected images were rated by the internet recruits as giving less favourable first impressions than the images chosen by strangers.
“One explanation 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,” says Dr White.
So there you go. Get a stranger to choose your next profile pic.