In most cases, your profile photo on Facebook tells viewers what they need to know to form an impression of you – no words are necessary, new research suggests.
College students who viewed a Facebook photo of a fellow student having fun with friends rated that person as extraverted – even if his profile said he was “not a big people-person.”
“Photos seem to be the primary way we make impressions of people on social networking sites,” said Brandon Van Der Heide, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.
The exception is when a photo is out of the ordinary or shows someone in a negative light. In that case, people do use profile text to help interpret what kind of person is shown in the profile.
“People will accept a positive photo of you as showing how you really are. But if the photo is odd or negative in any way, people want to find out more before forming an impression,” he said
Van Der Heide conducted the study with Jonathan D’Angelo and Erin Schumaker, graduate students in communication at Ohio State. Their results appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Communication.
The researchers conducted two studies.
In one study, 195 college students viewed a mock Facebook profile of a person who was supposedly a fellow student. The profile included a photo and a written “about me” statement.
Participants were asked to rate how extraverted they thought the student in the profile was, on a scale of 1 (least extraverted) to 7 (most extraverted) based on the photo and text.
The participants viewed one of four profiles: in one, both the photo (a person shown socializing with friends) and the text (“I’m happiest hanging out with a big group of friends”) suggested an extrovert.
A second profile had both a photo (a person alone on a park bench) and text (“I’m happiest curled up in my room with a good book”) that suggested an introvert.
The other two profiles were mixed, with the photo suggesting an extravert and the text an introvert, and vice versa.
The question the researchers wanted to answer was which mattered more – the photo or the text – in deciding whether the person was an extrovert or an introvert.
Results showed the photo was generally most important, Van Der Heide said.