When trying to pick the most flattering pictures for online profiles, it may be best to let a stranger do the choosing, according to a new study.
In the study, a team led by researchers at the University of New South Wales Sydney in Australia found that pictures selected by strangers convey more favorable first impressions than photos people select for themselves.
Published in the open access journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, the findings appear to contradict previous research that showed that people tend to portray themselves more favorably than others.
“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,” said Dr. David White, lead author of the study.
“This effect is likely to have a substantial impact on online interactions, the impressions people form and the decisions they base on them, including whether to employ, date, befriend, or even vote for someone.”
“Previous work has shown that people make inferences about an individual’s character and personality within a split second of seeing a photograph of their face, so our results have clear practical implications: If you want to put your best face forward, it makes sense to ask someone else to choose your picture,” he continued.
For the study, researchers asked 102 students to select two out of 12 photos of their own face that they were most or least likely to use as a profile picture in three online network contexts: Social networks, dating sites, and professional networks.
The students were then asked to do the same for 12 images of a randomly selected stranger who had participated in the study previously.
The researchers found that people tended to select images that highlighted positive personality traits in line with the context of the website that the image was for.
“Our results demonstrate that people know how to select profile pictures that fit specific networking contexts and make positive impressions on strangers: Dating images appear more attractive, and professional images appear more competent,” White said.
However, when the researchers showed these images to strangers they recruited via the internet and asked them to rate how attractive, trustworthy, dominant, confident, or competent the person in them appeared, they found that the images people had selected for themselves made a less favorable impression than images selected by others.
“Future research needs to investigate the mechanisms that underlie the choices people make when selecting profile pictures to find out why people seem to have a limited ability to select the most flattering images of themselves,” he concluded.