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Study: Facebook Profile Photos Strongly Affect Perception Of Others

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Facebook profile photos can have a large affect on others' perceptions, a new study suggests. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Facebook profile photos can have a large affect on others’ perceptions, a new study suggests. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (CBS ST. LOUIS) —  A flattering Facebook profile picture can strongly affect friends or an employer’s perception of your real world life.

According to research from the University of Missouri, comments left by users on Facebook profile pictures strongly affect the level of perceived attractiveness of the profile owner physically, socially, and professionally.

More than 850 million people use Facebook worldwide, and Facebook profile photos are the first photos visible on a user’s profile. Other Facebook users are able to post comments about each profile photo, which are visible to anyone who views the photo.

Seoyeon Hong, a doctoral student, conducted the research along with Kevin Wise, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and other doctoral students.

“People tend to rely more on other-generated information than self-generated information when forming impressions,” Hong said. “In other words, opinions of other people matter more than the target person’s own self-presentation. Thus, for social networking users concerned about forming a desired impression, being aware of other-generated information about oneself is paramount in the goal of achieving a positive self-presentation.”

In the study, Hong showed different Facebook profile pictures of the same person to more than a hundred college students. Each picture varied in social cues and the quality of comments. Profile photos with social cues are photos of the profile user that include additional information about who they are and what they do. For example, a photo with a social cue of an athlete would be a picture of that person playing sports.

Likewise, a social cue for a musician may be a photo of that person playing an instrument. Hong and Wise found that people with Facebook profile photos that include social cues were perceived to be more physically and socially attractive than people with profile photos that were plain headshots.

“These findings show how important it is to present yourself strategically on Facebook,” Hong told MU News. “If you want to be perceived positively by people who view your profile page, including friends and potential employers, it is important to include profile pictures with positive social cues. No matter what the profile owner does to tailor their Facebook page, comments left on their page from other users should be monitored as well.”

Positive comments are very helpful, but negative remarks can be very damaging, even if they are silly or sarcastic, Hong told MU News.

“To maximize the effects of positive self-presentation on Facebook, I would recommend using profile pictures with extensive social cues to show who and what you are in a positive way while also keeping track of what others say about you.”

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