Why a stranger should select your profile picture

Researchers believe we may not be portraying the best version of our self when we choose our own profile pictures

When choosing our own profile pictures it seems we don't pick the most flattering image, strangers do

Brigid Dix

When choosing our own profile pictures it seems we don't pick the most flattering image, strangers do

Brigid Dix, Reporter

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When you click on someone’s social media account one of the first things you’ll notice is a person’s profile picture.

It can be a stranger’s first impression of you, an employers first image they see of you, or a potential partners first look at you – so profile pictures have become the way we identify ourselves on social media.

Professor Clare A.M Sutherland from UWA’s school of psychology and a senior author on the Choosing Face: The curse of self profile in image selection’ has been investigating why profile pictures featuring our faces are important.

“Faces have been described as the most important human social stimuli, and people can read a wealth of information from faces.”

As profile pictures play such a big part in our online profile, choosing the right profile picture is an important process, one we generally do ourselves.

But according to this study, published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications,  strangers should be choosing our profile pictures for us.

It seems that sometimes when we choose a profile picture that we deem to be the best version of our self to portray online, that we actually are not portraying the best version of ourselves.

Researchers conducted a study while writing the paper and got people to select their own images and rank them beginning with ‘most likely to feature on social media’ through to ‘least likely to feature on social media’ they then looked at a strangers images and ranked them in the same way they did for their own images.

According to lead researcher of the paper Professor David White, “Strangers consistently selected more flattering pictures then people chose of themselves.”

It seems that while we ourselves may think a picture is flattering it actually may not be. But why could this be?

“Our face is overly familiar to us. The familiarity seems to make it harder to choose the specific shot that best portrays us,” Professor White said.

With social media being so popular we do seem to spend a lot of time looking at our own faces through social media applications like Snapchat, Instagram and even Facebook.

According to, a site that produces Australian social media statistics monthly, as of July 2017 17,000,000 Australians are actively using Facebook monthly, as well as 5,000,000 Australians are actively using Instagram each month and 4,000,000 Australians are using Snapchat daily.

With so many Australians using social media accounts whether they be social such as Facebook, or professional such as LinkedIn or a dating website such as E-Harmony, they all require a profile picture.

While conducting the study Professor White found that when selecting a profile picture people would consider what site they were using it for.

“When choosing a photo for a dating website or Facebook, people may have focused too much on looking attractive despite the potential benefits of also looking trustworthy and competent in these contexts,” he said.

Even with social media sites such as Instagram we are portraying a certain persona and message when posting photos, with many accounts revolving around a specific topic such as food or fashion.

So how do we post profile pictures and photos on social media sites such as Instagram that are flattering and portray us in a good way?

“Our data suggest that ‘crowdsourcing’ the task of selecting profile images would provide substantial boosts to the first impressions people make in online environments,” Professor White said.

When crowdsourcing the selection of possible profile pictures that could be as simple as asking a family or friend their opinion on possible selections, but researchers are currently conducting another study to establish whether a family or friend is an adequate person to select a person’s profile picture or whether it should be a complete stranger.

One message out of the study is clear – “If you want to put your best face forward, you should ask someone else to choose your next profile picture,” Professor White said.

So if you want to portray the best version of yourself online, don’t make the decision yourself, come up with some possible options and ask someone else to choose it for you.

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About the Contributor
Brigid Dix, ECU Reporter

Brigid also known as Bridie is a bubbly, enthusiastic, hard working journalist with a passion for music, food and animals. In her spare time she loves...

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Why a stranger should select your profile picture