In a study, researchers at Ohio State University have found that profile pictures on Facebook are paid more attention to than anything written, and that when text is relevant, closer attention is paid to what can be deemed as socially abnormal. For lack of a better phrase, Facebooks are judged by their covers, and words aren’t really necessary.
Brandon Van Der Heide, head of the study at Ohio State, said that “photos seem to be the primary way we make impressions of people on social networking sites.” In an experiment, a photo of a user surrounded by friends prompted a group to deem him as “extroverted,” even though his profile read that he was “not a big people person.” Viewers tend to automatically make “good” assumptions, unless there is a photo that is weird, or portrays a person in a negative light. This is when text comes into play. Van Der Heide adds, “people will accept a positive photo of you as showing how you really are. But if the photo is odd or negative in any way, people want to find out more before forming an impression.”
In the study, 195 college students viewed mock Facebook profiles that included “about me” text. The viewers would then rank how extroverted they thought the Facebooker to be, on a scale of 1 to 7. If they looked extrorverted in their pictures, they were ranked as such. If not, text was used to help form an opinion. But even if the text declared extroversion, this mattered only a little, against the judgement of the picture. “They were still seen as introverted, because of their photo showing them alone on the park bench. But they got a little bump up in their extroversion rating because of their profile text suggesting they were extroverted,” said Prof Van Der Heide.
The results of the experiments reinforce an idea that people generally pay more attention to information that could be viewed as aberrant. People likewise seek to portray themselves as being happy, successful and sociable. “If the photograph fits that image, people have little reason to question his or her judgements about this person’s characteristics,” according to Van Der Heide. “But if the photo shows something we did not expect – someone who is more introverted, for example – viewers want to read the text and do a little more interpretation.”