An unsung skill of the social networking age is the ability to pick a good profile picture, whether for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Tinder. It’s no trivial matter: people make up their minds about another person’s personality and likability within a second of viewing their photograph.
“This is an important task in the modern world, in the digital era,” says David White, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of New South Wales Sydney in Australia. “We make these selections very frequently.”
Unfortunately, we’re not very good at it, according to White’s new study in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. People tend to be better at selecting flattering photos of other people than they are at choosing good pictures of themselves.
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White, who is the paper’s lead author, and his colleagues asked about 100 college students to download 12 images of themselves from Facebook, then select the photos they would use for their profile pictures on Facebook, dating websites and LinkedIn. (The photos only showed their faces, not their bodies.)
Strangers were then shown those same 12 images and asked which photos they would choose, if they were the person in them.
To see who chose better images—the photo subject or the stranger—the researchers crowdsourced the Internet and asked people to rate how attractive, trustworthy and competent the face in the photos looked, like a scientific “Hot or Not.”
Everyone did a good job picking the more attractive photos. But when researchers analyzed the photos for two other traits—trustworthiness and competence—people didn’t select their own images that accentuated those traits.