If you think you spend too much time worrying about your social networking profile photo or your professional head shot, think again. A new study suggests that even small changes in a photo can dramatically affect the way the photo’s subject is perceived.
First Impressions Matter
We’ve all heard that first impressions matter, and most of us are taught to be meticulously careful about how we present ourselves to the world. Several studies on the effects of first impressions suggest that the importance of a first glance can’t be overemphasized. A 2014 study, for example, found that even fact couldn’t override first impressions. In that study, research participants ignored what they heard about a photo subject’s sexual orientation and instead based their conclusions on the first impression they gained from the photo. A 2006 study showed that first impressions are fleeting moments, and that most people develop an opinion within a tenth of a second of meeting or seeing someone new.
Minor Changes in Photos
The most recent study on first impressions, published in Psychological Science, points toward the importance of photographic first impressions. Researchers showed study participants several head shots, then asked participants to rank the photos’ subjects on personality traits such as intelligence, creativity, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. They found that small changes in the photo subjects’ expressions yielded big changes in first impressions. In fact, the addition of a toothy grin or a subtle dip of the chin led study participants to offer significantly different evaluations of the same subjects. The difference was so dramatic that there was as much variability for a single photographic subject depending upon his or her expression as there was between subjects.
Researchers also found that participants’ impressions of a photographic subject changed depending on context. A subject being judged as a potential date was assessed differently than one being assessed for a job or political candidacy. There was no single “right” expression or photographic style, then. You really do need different photos for your personal and business websites, and a silly photo that makes friends like you more could cause potential employers to judge you more harshly.
- Even fact will not change first impressions. (2014, February 14). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140214111207.htm
- Todorov, A., & Porter, J. M. (2014). Misleading first impressions different for different facial images of the same person. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/05/27/0956797614532474.abstract
- Wargo, E. (2006, July). How many seconds to a first impression? Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2006/july-06/how-many-seconds-to-a-first-impression.html
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