Your handwriting, your handshake, your email inbox — pretty much everything you do can be mined for clues to your personality.
So it's no surprise that psychologists have now released a study that suggests people will assume a lot about you based on your selfies (a.k.a. photos that you take of yourself and share on social media).
For the study, led by Lin Qiu, Ph.D., at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and cited on the British Psychological Society Research Digest, researchers analyzed 123 selfies taken from Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter. Each person pictured completed a personality questionnaire.
Then the researchers coded each selfie according to 13 cues, including whether the individual was making a duck face (an exaggerated pouting expression), whether he was looking at the camera, how high he held the camera, and whether a private location was pictured.
In a second part of the experiment, 107 Chinese students looked at the selfies and used them to evaluate the owners' personalities.
Turns out, researchers found some surprising relationships between selfie styles and personality traits:More agreeable (i.e. friendly) people were more likely to take pictures from below. More conscientious people were less likely to reveal a private space in the background. People who were more open to new experiences were more likely to display positive emotions. Neurotic people were more likely to use the duck face in their photos.
But here's the catch: When students looked at the collection of selfies, they didn't pick up on most of these correlations. For example, they (incorrectly) thought that pressed lips predicted extraversion and openness and that being alone in a photo meant the person was neurotic. The only accurate observation they made was that positive emotion generally predicted openness to experience.
The researchers say one possible reason for students' flawed assessments is that most people look positive in selfies, so it's difficult to make any specific inferences about their personalities.
This study has several notable limitations. As Christian Jarrett, Ph.D., points out on the BPS Research Digest, the findings might not apply in other cultures. Moreover, Jarrett says, the selfie owners rated their own personalities, which might not have made for the most accurate assessments.
Yet this study paves the way for future research into the relationship between the way we present ourselves online and our personality. For example, the authors say that computer programs can be developed to detect duck face in order to help predict neuroticism.
Ultimately, this research suggests that you might show more about yourself in your selfie than you'd consciously reveal in casual conversation. As the researchers say, this disclosure happens mostly "inadvertently."
In other words: Try as you might to manage the impression you leave on social media, you may not be able to keep your real personality traits from shining through.
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