How We Judge People by Their Facebook Cover Photos

facebook cover page

In just a few weeks, Facebook users who’ve yet to switch over to the new profile design will be forced to do so. Among other changes, it also means adding another, larger photo to your profile. Some may choose to showcase themselves, while others will choose photos of their cats, children, or favorite character, but you’ll still have a regular profile picture as well. You know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well according to a new study, it seems that’s exactly what social media users tend to do with Facebook pictures.

“Photos seem to be the primary way we make impressions of people on social networking sites,” said Brandon Van Der Heide, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. “If your profile photo fits what they expect, observers may be unlikely to look very closely at the rest of your profile – they have already decided how they feel about you.”

But most of the time, snap judgements are made without reading any of the words on the profile. Van Der Heide, along with graduate students Jonathan D’Angelo and Erin Schumaker, asked students to look at profiles with a photo and an “about me” section and then rate from one to seven how extroverted they thought the user was. The students judged that those who had pictures of themselves with friends were extroverted even if the “about me” portion suggested otherwise. They found exceptions to the findings when users had pictures that were particularly different.

“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,” said Van Der Heide. “If your photo is not quite normal – either positively or negatively – people are going to pay a lot more attention to what you wrote.”

Van Der Heide said that although his study was based solely on Facebook, the findings can translate to other social media sites where profile pictures are used. He also made it a point to mention that this type of judgement can occur when potential employers are looking at your profiles.

Are you guilty of judging a person by their profile photo? Of course, not everyone uses pictures of themselves, and that wasn’t something specifically covered in the study, but it’s definitely something to think about. Especially with the impending cover photos about to take over the website.


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