You'd think with Facebook and Myspace being 13 years old, and LinkedIn pushing 14, we'd have mastered the art of picking the correct profile picture by now.
But, according to new research, we still kinda suck at it, and the problem might be our inbuilt biases of what we think we look like.
"[It] could be that we perceive ourselves more positively than others do, in general. This may interfere with our ability to discriminate when trying to select the specific photo that gives the most positive impression," says one of the researchers, psychologist David White from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.
"Our study shows for the first time that people select more flattering profile images for complete strangers than they do for themselves."
The study, conducted with researchers from UNSW, the University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney, collected images of 102 students, sourcing 12 pictures of each individual from their Facebook accounts.
The students were asked to rate their own images, giving a score for how attractive, trustworthy, dominant, confident, and competent they thought they looked in each picture.
In addition to this, they also had to select which picture they would be most likely to use for a Facebook profile, a professional profile, and a dating profile image.
Next up, 160 strangers rated the 12 images in the same way the students had, to see just how differently they assessed the same set of pictures.
The researchers found that when the students selected the profile images for themselves, they picked pictures that ranked less favourably with the strangers than profile images that other strangers had chosen.
"Selecting profile pictures for social, romantic, and professional sites is a common task in the digital age, and choosing the right image can be critical," says White.
"We make inferences about an individual's character and personality within a split second of seeing a photograph of their face. These first impressions can influence important decisions such as whether someone wants to befriend you, date you, or employ you."
Strangers being able to pick a better profile picture was a surprise to the researchers – after all, with so much experience choosing our own profile pictures, why aren't we best at doing the job ourselves?
The researchers aren't entirely sure, but they do have a few ideas:
"Although our results are surprising in the context of self-enhancement research, they may be related to the finding that people tend to perceive themselves more positively than other people," the researchers write in the paper.
So basically, get someone else to pick your next profile picture – it might just score you that hot date or your next job.
The research has been published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.
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