Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: Internet Dating and Your Profile Picture

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Apparently, if it is a representative photo. A study published in 2009 by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that you can learn valuable information about a stranger simply by looking at his or her picture.

The study had viewers look at two types of pictures of individuals. One was a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression and the other a more natural pose. Viewers then rated each person in the picture on ten personality characteristics. The study showed that viewers were able to accurately determine personality traits of the photographed people. In fact, when looking at the more naturally posed pictures, the judgments were accurate for nine out the traits rated, which included extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religious leanings and political orientation. The tenth trait, neuroticism, was very hard to detect on a first impression.

What does this mean for online dating sites and the way you post your profile?

Although we don't want to be only judged on outward appearance nor do we want to think we judge others on theirs, it is just a fact of nature that we are a visual species and, accordingly, we often make decisions based on what we observe ... if not consciously, then at least subconsciously.

That said, be very careful in choosing your profile picture for a dating site. You may be giving off more non-verbal clues than you realize. These might be influencing who contacts you and who does not.

Let's review some of the elements of which to be aware and their possible meanings. Remember, these are only some of the possibilities and not always true. They are just something for you to consider, especially if you find that you are not having much luck getting responses from prospective dates (or you are getting responses but not the type you want).

1. Smiling vs Neutral Expression
Smile: more extroverted. warm, open
Neutral: aloof, quiet, not confident

2. Stance: Stiff vs Relaxed
Stiff: uncomfortable in your own skin, stubborn, can't go with the flow, not physically agile
Relaxed: easy-going nature, fun-loving, energetic

3. Jewelry
Are you wearing a religious icon that indicates your affiliation. You may be so used to doing this that you think nothing of it. However, it may be regarded as a sign of religious devoutness.

4. Clothing/Grooming
Neat or messy?
Athletic wear or more formal wear?
Color of clothes: vibrant or dull?
In fashion or hopelessly outdated?

5. Background of Picture
Is it outdoorsy, in front of a church/temple, shows a house (size/location); shows a car (fancy vs heep); includes family members; includes a pet; against a foreign background indicating you are a traveler.

These are just a few points to keep in mind when choosing a picture for your profile. As a check-in, you might ask a friend to look at your picture and ask what he/she sees. You are making a statement about yourself and you want to be sure it is an accurate and representative one. 

Go forth and find that photograph that captures your essence!

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