LIFESTYLE: What your online profile pictures say about you

There is a lot more to read on Facebook, Twitter, etc from people than messages. And I enjoy reading them. I am not alone. Psychologists, employers and security operatives get to know a lot more about you from your display or profile pictures, and pictures you post than you think.

“A very important aspect of measuring personality through social media is that it’s unobtrusive. You’re directly observing people’s behaviour rather than asking them to report on it,” says Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, whose team presented their research this year at the International Conference on Web and Social Media in Cologne, Germany.

You perhaps didn’t need research findings to know that. You of course know some of your Facebook friends enough to know women who are not truly beautiful but display carefully-taken shots in which they look pretty; those who are searching; those who may be looking beyond their marital homes; those who pretend they have peaceful homes, when there are indeed ‘married singles’, and of course extroverts and introverts, among others.

Interesting these days are people who go about venting anger on others, especially those in authority. Anger is often caused by frustration. If you are able to dig into the background of such people, you would understand them.

Before the results of the latest study, let’s see an interesting profiling done on and others.

Duckface: Usually a girl, pressing her lips together and pouting them, resembling a duck. It suggests you like attention and want to look cute and sexy. The puckering of the lips accentuates the cheekbones making you look thin and eradicating the double chin. It’s also intended as an ‘I’m so fun and cute’ pose.

The Couple Shot: A picture of you and your supposed lover positioned very close to each other, probably kissing the cheek. It shows you love each other and you want the world to know. But if you are truly in love, is that where to show it?

The Crop-out: A group photo but you have cropped others out to show yourself, and small bits of body parts of others in the corners of the picture. Suggests you don’t like the other people in the picture or you think you look better than them, but you have ended up telling the world that they look better than you.

The Throwback: An old childhood picture of you. Well, you are telling the world you have a strong appreciation for the past, and you daydream about the ‘good old days’. Bottomline, you are a boring person.

Party Picture: A party shot of you and your friends holding drinks and looking like you are having a time of your life. It means you believe in living live to the fullest, and you are unlikely to take things too seriously. Employers take note?

The Head Shot: A high-angle picture, looking out into the distance with a somber look. Means you have teenage angst and hate the world now.

The narcissists: A study shows that people habitually posting to Facebook about exercise, diets and accomplishments are more likely to be narcissists.

Low self-esteem: The study also found that people who post updates about their current romantic partners are more likely to have low self-esteem.

Latest research: This 2016 study reveals that social media profile pictures can reveal clues about personality. A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania used character assessment software to analyse the profile pictures of 66,000 Twitter users, as well as asking a further 434 people to fill in a psychological survey.


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Here is how to spot each of the five aspects of personality:

Open to experiences: This category of profile picture-takers are those who enjoy tackling new, exciting experiences and aren’t afraid to pose in a kooky or odd way. Most likely to pose with an object, be it a guitar or a snowboard or a bonsai tree, those who fall into this group take the best pictures.

Glasses are a common feature of these profile pictures, and the face often appears large within the frame.
However, despite showing off skills in their profile pictures, people in this category are the most likely to take insipid, colourless photos, and look angry or sad in them.

Neurotic: They are users who have trouble holding back their negative emotions. As a result, those in this category are the most likely to eschew convention and set an image of something other than their face as a profile picture – be it a car, a building or a pet.

Those neurotics who do take the plunge and post a picture of their own face will likely look bland and neutral in the resulting image. According to the study authors, they would rather look miserable, but feel like the “strong social norm against a very sad or angry appearance in profile pictures” precludes them from doing so.

Conscientious: Conscientious social media users are more likely to appear older than their years in profile pictures, and will use techniques such as wearing glasses or smarter clothes to achieve this. They are those who enjoy “orderliness, planned behaviour and self-discipline” fit into this category. These traits are represented in their profile pictures through positive emotion probably because the shots will always be perfected framed and not one hair will be out of place.

Agreeable: As the name suggests, these users are the most likely to be cheerful, get along with others and smile.

The profile pictures of agreeable people are one of the most likely to be colourful (along with extroverts) – and will feature the subject laughing, playing with others or smiling broadly.
The image itself will likely be poor quality, badly framed and with a low, blurry resolution – but this group is simply having too much fun to spend time focusing the camera.

Extrovert: The show-offs. Extroverts, although smiling and gloating in their snaps, take the worst quality pictures, however.

“Extroverts’ images do not have any correlation with the colour attributes that make a photo aesthetically pleasing (contrast, saturation, lack of blur),” reads the study.

These people also tend to pose with young people, or adopt other techniques to make themselves appear younger than they are.

The very accurate perception
This is the bad news for job seekers and employees. Experts say that although profile picture analysis may not be a suitable replacement of other methods, combining it with other forms of analysis of social media data such as the text in tweets and status updates, or a record of things that a person has liked, might give “a very accurate perception” of what someone is like. Last January, for example, a machine learning algorithm learned to predict personality traits from Facebook likes.


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