Maybe you should let someone you don’t know pick your next profile picture… (Photo: Getty Images/Priscilla De Castro for Yahoo Health)
Are you sure you know what you look like? According to new research published in the British Journal of Psychology, total strangers do a better job of picking a photo that accurately depicts your appearance than you do.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia instructed 130 volunteers to download 10 photos of themselves from Facebook and then place them in order, from most accurate to least accurate, in terms of likeness. Each person in this group was also filmed for a minute with a webcam, as well as photographed while smiling and while maintaining a neutral expression.
Next, strangers — who had never met anyone in the initial group — watched the webcam videos, and then were shown the Facebook photos. They were instructed to place the Facebook photos in the order of likeness of the person they just watched on the webcam video.
The results? The strangers chose more accurately matching Facebook photos than the initial study participants chose for themselves.
“In this study, we were specifically interested in the selection of images for the purpose of identification,” study author David White, PhD, tells Yahoo Health. “Our results suggest that the images we choose as being representative of our appearance are actually quite poor likenesses. This is consistent with earlier work showing that we tend to choose images of ourselves that are exaggerated, both in terms of attractiveness and also perceived trustworthiness.”
White adds that personal preference (and possibly wishful thinking!) may play a part in how we see ourselves. “Around 70 percent of the images in the study were pictured smiling, so perhaps the Facebook images are already selected to portray us in a positive light,” he explains. “It is interesting because our ability to be selective about the images we choose to portray to the world is only really made possible by digital cameras and social media. So photo selection, in general, is a very modern phenomenon.”
So in a world of continuous snapshots and selfies, how are we so off about the way we look? White and his team of researchers theorize that existing memories may skew our self-image.
“The memory we have of our own face is different to the memory we have of other familiar faces because we very rarely need to identify ourselves,” he explains. “Instead, our day-to-day visual experience with our own face tends to be from a mirror, typically when grooming or applying make-up. An interesting possibility is that this leads us to have knowledge of our face that other people don’t notice, and that isn’t taken into account when identifying a face.”
Another possible reason for our “distorted” perception: our level of self-esteem. “Again, previous research on this topic suggests that people, in general, have an enhanced perception of themselves,” says White. “In a 2008 study, researchers Epley and Whitchurch showed that this tendency is related to a person’s underlying self-esteem.” That study showed that people who have higher self-esteem tend to choose more flattering photos.
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