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Want to Get More Likes and Comments on Instagram? Show Your Face

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
March 21, 2014

This kid is about to get so many Instagram likes. (Associated Press)

Finally, scientific proof that no one wants to see that Instagram of your dinner.

Well, the majority of people, at least. A new study led by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs (disclosure: we are also owned by Yahoo. What’s up, Yahoo Labs?) found that Instagram photos with a face in them are 38 percent more likely to be liked and 32 percent more likely to spur conversation than images without a face. 

The study evaluated a random sample of 1 million Instagram photos to determine if human faces (and their age and gender) influenced how people responded on the social network. According to Saeideh Bakhshi, the Georgia Tech College of Computing Ph.D. who led the study, her team anticipated that photos of people, rather than things, would receive a more enthusiastic response.

“There are a lot of studies in psychology that show that babies, for example, react to photos of faces very fast,” she told Yahoo Tech. “If there is a nice nature photo and there’s a person in it, the first thing we’ll look for in it is actually the person.”

More surprising to Bakhshi and her team, however, was the fact that age and gender made no difference in the amount of likes a photo would receive. Meaning adorable toddlers or young girls held no real gravitas over non-babies and older men.

“Babies are not necessarily more popular than teenagers and young people,” she said. Bakhshi, however, did confirm that babies are more popular than cupcakes.

The researchers also discovered that photos of people over the age of 35 aren’t necessarily less popular by design, but they are somewhat less likely to receive comments. Bakhshi noted that this is probably due to the fact that a minority of Instagram’s 150 million-person community is made up of people above the age of 30.  

To evaluate the vast database of images, researchers used software to detect faces (and their age and gender) within photos. They then cross-checked the accuracy of that algorithm by asking assistants to evaluate a pool of 2,000 photos.

In the future, Bakhshi says, we may be able to use similar methods to evaluate how people react to different expressions or objects on social media.

“My work is to understand what’s in images and how it affects user behavior,” she said. “Like a cupcake. Does the color of the food make it more or less engaging? Psychology says people don’t like to see blue colored food, but they like red or green. I’m also looking at colors.”

Hear that, world? No one likes your Instagrams of blue cupcakes.

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