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Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2017;2(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s41235-017-0058-3. Epub 2017 Apr 14.

Choosing face: The curse of self in profile image selection.

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW Australia.
School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia.
School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.


People draw automatic social inferences from photos of unfamiliar faces and these first impressions are associated with important real-world outcomes. Here we examine the effect of selecting online profile images on first impressions. We model the process of profile image selection by asking participants to indicate the likelihood that images of their own face ("self-selection") and of an unfamiliar face ("other-selection") would be used as profile images on key social networking sites. Across two large Internet-based studies (n = 610), in line with predictions, image selections accentuated favorable social impressions and these impressions were aligned to the social context of the networking sites. However, contrary to predictions based on people's general expertise in self-presentation, other-selected images conferred more favorable impressions than self-selected images. We conclude that people make suboptimal choices when selecting their own profile pictures, such that self-perception places important limits on facial first impressions formed by others. These results underscore the dynamic nature of person perception in real-world contexts.


Face perception; Impression formation; Interpersonal accuracy; Online social networks; Photography; Self perception; Visual communication

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