How to Choose a Good Profile Picture

When you are engaged in online dating, the profile pictures you choose for your profile are important (as posted previously).  People rely on photos of potential partners to determine if there is physical attraction or if they want to start communication.  It is no surprise that there is pressure to put up a good picture.  You want a good-looking picture that will attract potential partners, and you may be tempted to choose a picture that puts your absolute best foot forward.  However, a picture at the perfect angle with the best lighting from 20 years ago may be sending a different message.

A recent study investigated the accuracy of online profile pictures, comparing online daters’ profile pictures to more current pictures of daters taken in the laboratory (Hancock & Toma, 2009).  Participants rated the accuracy of their own profile picture and then had a group of independent observers (both men and women) also rate the accuracy of the profile pictures compared to more recent pictures of the participants taken in the lab.

While participants in the study generally thought that pictures accurately depicted themselves, independent raters often found differences between how they looked in their profile pictures and how they looked in a more recent picture.  Differences were found in physical appearance for things like age, weight, and hair length.  Furthermore, when observers found differences in these aspects, they rated the overall accuracy of the photograph as lower.

In fact, researchers found that women, more than men, posted profile pictures that were less accurate as rated by observers.   One explanation given by the researchers was that because men often value physical appearance more than women, women were more likely to engage in physical self-enhancement – in this case, choosing pictures that put them in a better light.

While selecting a picture to put on your profile, choose one that highlights your best features but one that is also realistic and represents you.   If in doubt, take a new picture of yourself instead of relying on a dated one, and maybe run the pictures by a few friends too.  While you may think the pictures look like you, they may not always be seen that way by outside observers.  Having a perfect photo is great, but an accurate picture also lets the other person know that you are honest about who you are.

Further Reading:
Hancock, J. T., & Toma, C. L. (2009). Putting your best face forward: The accuracy of online dating photographs. Journal of Communication, 59, 367-286.  doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01420.x

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