You’re Better Off Having A Stranger Choose Your Profile Picture

Research shows that selfie isn’t as attractive as you think.

These days, we make most of our first impressions online. Previous research says we judge a person’s character within a second of looking at their photograph. While our online persona might differ from who we are in real life, the impression we make online can still affect future real-life interactions. So, side-eyeing your own profile pictures yet?

Australian researchers examined how people choose profile pictures based on online contexts. What they discovered is that we’re pretty terrible at picking flattering photos for ourselves.

“Our findings suggest that people make poor choices when selecting flattering images of themselves for online profile pictures, which affects other people’s perception of them,” lead author David White said.

Over 100 students looked at 12 photos of themselves and chose the image they would most likely or least likely use for their social media accounts, professional networks and dating profiles. Participants repeated this process for a different student in the study. At the end of the experiment, each person had two profiles: one with their chosen photos and another selected by a stranger.

Example image sets provided by participants./David White

Researchers then invited outsiders to look at both profiles and record their first impressions based on the traits of trustworthiness, competence and attractiveness.

Results showed participants mindfully chose their profile photos to align with the traits of a given online platform. For anyone who knows their way around social media, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Your LinkedIn photo is probably buttoned-up compared to your spicy Tinder pic.

The kicker: It looks like we don’t know our best angles, after all. The crowdsourced voters thought images selected by a stranger were more flattering and made a better overall impression.

“Facial first impressions we transmit to unfamiliar people — via online social networks — are constrained by how we perceive ourselves,” the study said.

So that Tinder match you swear looks like Chris Pine, but your friends think his profile picture looks like he’s straight out of the sixth grade? Don’t ghost him yet — let your friend choose a better photo for the guy.

The study was published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, an academic journal, in April.

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