Snap Personality Judgments Based on Pictures Hold Kernels of Truth, Says Study

With the rising popularity of the internet and the ability to “meet” people in a virtual setting long before they are encountered in person, the use of photographs to present personality is experiencing a significant surge. On social networking sites, in project biographies, and even appended to resumes and other important business documents, photographic portraits are able to convey a fair amount of information about people-–but how correct of a first impression they can create has been questioned by many. Studying the ability of portraits to convey accurate information about their subjects in quick assessments, research performed recently at the University of Washington in St. Louis and the University of Cambridge has shown that in fact, people are often able to extract some, if not complete, details of personality projected by the portrait subjects.

Showing participants a battery of many different portrait subjects in both controlled and expressive poses, the researchers asked those involved with the study to assess various aspects of the subjects’ personalities, such as their degree of religious affiliation, political alignment, likability, extraversion, openness, emotional stability, and other central traits. The study found that while much of the information gleaned through the first impressions was inaccurate, participants were able to identify some correct pieces of data, even when they were shown images of people in non-expressive, standardized poses typically associated with a lack of emotion and personality.

The research may help shed light on how people can suggest different ideas about themselves through photographs, making better first impressions online and perhaps finding greater self-esteem and an improved body image, as well. As studies in self-presentation grow more complex, the ability to change self-perception may greatly advance and help heal.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment


    November 13th, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    Everybody forms perceptions about a person having seen their picture and sometimes this turns out to be true. It is not a miracle but just proof of the viewer’s stereotype actually being right…

  • elliot


    November 13th, 2009 at 9:54 AM

    When I see a person’s picture, I do try and think and form a perception of the person… it happens automatically… I don’t even have to think about it, it just happens… while I may be wrong sometimes, I think having met and interacted with so many people all through my life does have its benefits as my perceptions generally turn out to be true!

  • Georgia


    November 14th, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    So sad to think how many good people we have probably excluded from our lives over the course of a lifetime due to making untrue and unrealistic snap judgements.

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