Let’s talk about your current Facebook profile picture.
As far as you can tell, your hair looks Brad Pitt good. Your smirk is disarming but not douchey (à la Chris Pratt). And dammit if you didn’t look dominant as hell flocked by women, exuding the kind of confidence The Rock wears like cologne.
Bottom line: You think it’s the most flattering picture you’ve ever been snapped in—but, chances are, your instincts may not be completely accurate. The same goes for the pics you choose for other online profiles, like LinkedIn or Tinder, according to a new study published in the journal Cognitive Research Principles and Implications.
It turns out that we’re not really that great at choosing images that deliver knockout first impressions, according to a new study conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. In the study, 102 students were asked to select two of 12 photos of their own face they were most or least likely to use as a profile picture across three online contexts: social networks, dating sites, and professional networks. The men and women then did the same for 12 strangers.
Unsurprisingly, people tended to select images that highlighted positive traits that coincide with the context of the Web forum (i.e. attractive photos for dating sites and more competency-focused images for professional sites). But what was remarkable was that images chosen by strangers conveyed more favorable first impressions overall than those chosen by the individual. When the researchers asked strangers to rate how “attractive, trustworthy, dominant, confident, or competent” the person appeared, they found snapshots people chose for themselves made a less favorable impression than images selected by 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,” lead study author David White said in a press release. “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.”
It’s not a load of bull. Previous research suggests we make split decisions and snap judgements regarding a person’s character within seconds of viewing their photograph. “So if you want to put your best face forward, it makes sense to ask someone else to choose your picture,” White adds.
And we think it goes without saying the image you have as your profile picture on Hinge, LinkedIn, and Twitter should all be different. But in case it’s not, make the change. Your boss doesn’t need to see your shirtless beach selfie. Actually, no one needs to see your shirtless beach selfie.