Why You Should Let A Stranger Choose Your Social Media Profile Pictures

By Libby Jane Charleston
on 18 April 2017

When people choose an image of themselves for social media sites, many decide to post less-than-flattering photos.

Let’s face it, we’ve all got a friend or two that seems to post dreadful photos of themselves.

Sometimes this could be done deliberately in a way to showcase their self-deprecating humour. But, more often than not, they’ve simply chosen a ‘bad’ photo, thinking that it’s quite fabulous.

Research by the University of NSW found that people regularly choose unflattering photos of themselves that are worse than anything a stranger would choose for them.

UNSW psychologist Dr David White, the author of the study, told Women Love Tech the research suggests people have an inbuilt bias about what they think they look like that interferes with their ability to select photos that give the most favourable first impression.

“Selecting profile pictures for social, romantic and professional sites is a common task in the digital age, and choosing the right image can be critical,” says Dr White.

“We make inferences about an individual’s character and personality within a split second of seeing a photograph of their face.”

“These first impressions can influence important decisions such as whether someone wants to befriend you, date you or employ you.”

The study was carried out by researchers at UNSW, University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney, and is published in the open access journal ‘Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.’

“Our study shows for the first time that people select more flattering profile images for complete strangers than they do for themselves. This surprising result has clear practical implications. If you want to put your best face forward, get someone else to choose your picture,” Dr White adds.

There are around 1.8 billion people with an active Facebook account; about a third of employers search online for information about job candidates; and about half of the British adults who are searching for a relationship have used online dating.

“Our study shows for the first time that people select more flattering profile images for complete strangers than they do for themselves.”

The study involved more than 600 people and a range of experiments.

In one trial, participants were asked to indicate the likelihood that images of their own face, and images of a stranger’s face, would be used as profile pictures on social networking sites such as Facebook, dating sites such as Match.com, and a professional site such as LinkedIn.

Other people recruited via the internet then assessed these photos for social traits such as attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, competence and confidence.

The study showed that people were able to select images of themselves that accentuated the desired characteristic for a site, such as attractiveness for a dating site and professionalism for a work site.

However, the self-selected images were rated by the internet recruits as giving less favourable first impressions than the images chosen by strangers.

“One explanation could be that we perceive ourselves more positively than others do, in general. This may interfere with our ability to discriminate when trying to select the specific photo that gives the most positive impression,” says Dr White.

So, next time you want to update your social network profile photo, there’s no harm in asking a stranger to choose it for you – if nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment to see if you agree with the strangers’ choice.

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