The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, and apparently that saying is even true on Facebook. In fact, according to recent research from the Ohio State University, you may as well not even bother with the words at all.
According to Brandon Van Der Heide, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State, your profile picture on Facebook speaks much more loudly than any of the words you so carefully choose down below. At least, as long as it is a positive picture that doesn’t break from expectations.
Van Der Heide ran two experiments with undergraduates to come to this conclusion. In the first, 195 students viewed four different combinations of mock Facebook profiles pertaining to how outgoing the subject was. One matched an extroverted picture partying with friends with a profile stating how much the person enjoyed company. Another flipped the scene with the person sitting alone on a bench with words stating how the person preferred to be alone. The other two profiles mixed things up – an extroverted picture with an introverted profile or vice versa.
According to the results, so long as the picture showed the person out with friends having fun, the viewer perceived him or her as being extroverted, even when the profile stated otherwise. On the other hand, the lonely park bench image made the participants pay more attention to the words. Obviously, with an introverted profile and picture to match, the subject was rated as introverted. But if the text stated they preferred being out with friends, the views skewed towards extroverted.
“If the photograph fits that image, people have little reason to question his or her judgments about this person’s characteristics,” he said. “But if the photo shows something we didn’t expect – someone who is more introverted, for example – viewers want to read the text and do a little more interpretation.”
A second study showed just the image or just the text from the previous experiment. Though both pictures and profiles of extroverts rated highly as such, only the text from the introverted profile ranked as it was intended. The picture of a person alone on a bench did not necessarily merit an introverted ranking, according to participants.
I suppose people on Facebook just want to think that everyone else is a happy people person who likes to get out and have a good time. That’s not really a surprise, seeing as how that’s pretty much how everyone on Facebook wants to be perceived via their profile photo. So when an image breaks the mold, Van Der Heide suggests, people are going to pay a lot more attention to what you wrote.
So if you want people to ignore your writing, put up the typical photo. But if you want people to actually read a bit about you, maybe you should break the mold.