It turns out a picture really is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to your profile picture on Facebook. That is the finding of new research which looked at how people formed opinions of others on the popular social networking website. According to the research, most people formed impressions of others after seeing their profile picture, without ever reading any of the text contained in their profile.
"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. "If your profile photo fits what they expect, observers may be unlikely to look very closely at the rest of your profile – they have already decided how they feel about you."
To test this, Van Der Heide, along with Jonathan D’Angelo and Erin Schumaker, graduate students in communication at Ohio State, had students view Facebook profiles that included a photo and an "about me" section. The students looking at these profiles were then asked to rate how extroverted they thought a person was, on a scale of one to seven. The researchers found that people with photos showing them with friends were rated as being extroverted, even if accompanying text in the profile suggested otherwise.
A major exception, however, came when photos on profiles that showed something out of the ordinary.
"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," said Van Der Heide. "If your photo is not quite normal – either positively or negatively – people are going to pay a lot more attention to what you wrote."
Van Der Heide attributed this to the fact that people are drawn to the unknown. Despite their unique nature, however, the photos still seemed to be a deciding factor for many people when forming impressions about others.
"People were still seen as introverted, because of their photo showing them alone on the park bench," said Van Der Heide. "But they got a little bump up in their extroversion rating because of their profile text suggesting they were extroverted."
While this news was based on Facebook, the results translate past Facebook. According to Van Der Heide, the results can be applied to all other social networking websites. However, an interesting development comes when looking at how job applicants can be judged by their profile picture. With that in mind, job seekers must know that profile pictures— particularly abnormal ones— will bring more attention to their profiles.
"If the photograph fits that image, people have little reason to question his or her judgments about this person’s characteristics," Van Der Heide said.