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Your Facebook Photo Reflects Cultural Roots

Your Facebook Photo Reflects Cultural Roots Did you stress over which photo to use for your online Facebook profile? If you did, join the crowd as many struggle to determine if the photo should be lighthearted or professional, personal or more abstract.

A new study suggests that while the photos we select may reflect individual preferences, they also appear to reflect more deeply rooted, unconscious cultural differences.

Contemporary research on culture suggests that culture influences more than language and custom, that cultural foundations affect the way in which we experience the work and process information.

In Western cultures, for example, people collectively think of themselves as highly independent entities, whereas East Asian cultures stress collectivism and interdependence.

As such, Westerners tend to focus on central objects or faces more than on their surroundings when looking at a scene or painting portrait. East Asians, on the other hand, tend to focus on context as well as objects such as the scenery behind a person.

In the new study, psychologists Drs. Denise Park and Chih-Mao Huang were curious about whether these patterns of cultural influence extend to cyberspace.

As such, they examined the profile photographs of more than 500 active Facebook users from the United States and East Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan).

Overall, they found that profile photos of Americans are more likely to focus on the individual’s face, while the profiles of East Asians tend to de-emphasize the face and capture more background features.

Americans also show greater smile intensity compared to East Asian Facebookers.

Their paper is published in the International Journal of Psychology.

The researchers believe the findings demonstrate marked cultural differences in the focus of attention among East Asian and American Facebook users. Moreover, they echo previous research on cultural influences on visual perception, attention, and reasoning in the offline world.

“We believe these findings relate to a cultural bias to be more individualistic and independent in the U.S. and more communal and interdependent in Asia,” said Park.

Findings from the study also suggest that cultural influences over our self-presentation online can shift over time and from place to place.

In one of the study samples, Americans studying in Taiwan and Taiwanese studying in the United States both showed a tendency to adjust their profile photos to the general preferences of their host country.

“Facebook constitutes an extended social context in which personal profiles mirror various individual characteristics, private thoughts, and social behaviors,” noted Huang. “As such, the study presents a novel approach to investigate cognition and behaviors across cultures by using Facebook as a data collection platform.”

Source: UT-Dallas

Facebook photo by shutterstock.

Your Facebook Photo Reflects Cultural Roots

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Your Facebook Photo Reflects Cultural Roots. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Jun 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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