Online Profile

Of late, a study published in the Cognitive Research Principles and Implications journal analyzed the effect of choosing online profile images and first impressions. To capture this effect, researchers instructed participants to state the probability of their own facial images versus the images of others being used as a profile image for specific social networking sites.


Currently, major social, professional, and romantic life events involve the internet. Summarily, another study recorded that about one-third of employers utilized the internet when searching for information about employment candidates. In previous studies, researchers have also found that scores involving attractiveness and other character traits differ vastly across images of one person’s face than images across the faces of different individuals. Moreover, research about impression management in various online social networking sites has established that individuals admit that they select profile images with the aim of communicating positive impressions; a separate study discovered that self-images intended for use on dating sites were more likely to appear attractive when compared to images taken in a laboratory.

Key life events are linked to the images we present on social networking sites, consequently, individuals routinely make hasty judgments and form first impressions about unfamiliar people. Thus, profile images or the photos we choose to represent us on social networking sites play a critical role in forming the association between a person’s offline and online identity. There has been a lack of experimental research on the process of self-selecting profile images for social networking sites. Despite evidence indicating that slight differences in images of the same face can influence social impression formation, there is a gap in our understanding about how people take advantage of this variation to provide desirable impressions.

In this novel study published in Cognitive Research Principles and Implications, the data of profile images were retrieved from 102 students who provided the researchers with 12 images each. To measure preferences concerning self-image selection, the participants were asked to choose which of the 12 images would have the highest probability and lowest probability of being used as a profile image for Facebook, professional sites, and dating network sites. Next, the participants were instructed to rate their self-selected images based on five social impressions: attractiveness, competence, dominance, trustworthiness, and confidence.

To measure the other-profile image selection preferences, the participants carried out the same procedure (identical to the above-mentioned one) using 12 images from a randomly chosen student of the same gender who had participated in the study before. Lastly, the researchers recruited 178 unknown participants from the internet and asked them to rate the 12 images of 12 different people based on the five previously mentioned social impressions. The association between context (e.g. professional or dating) and selection type (other image selections versus own) was significant for own and internet selection types representing a closer agreement for photos selected by others in professional and internet contexts (excluding dating and Facebook contexts). Results demonstrated that character traits were fitted to certain social network sites such as attractiveness to dating and social sites.

This study’s findings support the notion that individuals self-select profile images that will emphasize positive personality characteristics and that those selections are matched to social networking site contexts. Notably, these findings are contradictory to the predictions made in the self-presentation literature, mainly that participants would choose more attractive images of themselves than of other individuals.


Written By: Melissa Booker

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