A new study from the University of Missouri shows that the type of profile picture one uses in the social networking site Facebook have an impact on how attractive the profile owner would feel. The study, published recently in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, was conducted by Kevin Wise, associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, together with doctoral student led by Seoyeon Hong.
With more than 850 million users worldwide, Facebook is now regularly used by people to communicate with each other, while companies typically use the site for marketing and for checking the background of people, particularly potential employees. Thus, many users usually post profile pictures that include social cues and extra information, which in turn frequently generate positive comments from friends and other viewers.
Apparently, views expressed by other people matter more than one’s own perception in gauging attractiveness. “People tend to rely more on other-generated information than self-generated information when forming impressions,” Hong explained. Thus, users are often self-conscious on the impression their profile pictures generate from commenters, as these are key inputs “in the goal of achieving a positive self-presentation.”
For the study, the researchers used different profile pics of the same person, varying social cues, visible information, and the comments each picture received. They then showed one profile photo to each study subject and asked the latter their impressions of the person based on the profile photo they were shown.
The results showed that social cues such as a musician playing an instrument or an athlete in a sporting game are usually rated as more physically and socially attractive by participants, compared to plain headshot photos. In addition, paying attention to comments left behind by other users is also essential in maintaining a positive impression as silly, sarcastic or outright negative remarks can have really damaging effects on what other viewers may think about the profile owner.