Photo Differences Can Dramatically Alter First Impressions

Man taking picture by ferris wheelIf 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.


  1. Even fact will not change first impressions. (2014, February 14). Retrieved from
  2. Todorov, A., & Porter, J. M. (2014). Misleading first impressions different for different facial images of the same person. Psychological Science. Retrieved from
  3. Wargo, E. (2006, July). How many seconds to a first impression? Retrieved from

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  • Carlton


    June 5th, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    We can’t always choose what others see in us. It is best to share your photos only with those with whom you are friendly and hope for the best when it comes to potential employers.

  • Joe D

    Joe D

    June 6th, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    I wish that more people would think long and hard before posting just any old picture online for the whole world to see. I look at some people’s photos and I wonder why on earth they would ever share that with the world? We all have our bad moments but that doesn’t mean that I will then broadcast that to every joe schmo with internet access! I do want to move ahead in my career and have a family and are these the kinds of things that I want to come back and keep me from having the best chance of having all of that? I know that young people think that no one is looking except friends, but believe me there is always someone out there looking and when they want to find something on you they will.

  • Tayla


    June 6th, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    There has already been a huge uproar lately over photoshopping and this is not the messge that we need to send out to our young kids. We should teach them that it is fine to post photos but to also think about the message that that one shot may give to others. A picture is always worth a thousand words… what do you wnat those words to be that are said about you?

  • Georgina


    June 8th, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    Isn’t it crazy how our mind plays tricks on us?
    We may know that this is the same person just with a different expression on their face or even that it is posed in a different setting, but we still let those external things impress on us ideas about what we think about the subject of the photo.

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