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 GoodTherapy.org.
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