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A picture can be worth a thousand words, they say, and this saying may be especially true when it comes to online dating. Researchers found that pictures posted on social networking sites as well as other destinations that allow personal photographs contain information that can be quickly captured by the viewer. In photos with a natural expression, we may be able to detect nine out of ten key traits, new research published by psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling of The University of Texas at Austin suggests.
The study included 123 people who viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose.
When looking at people in the controlled pose, the study group found some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions, the researchers said. In naturally expressive behavior, which included smiling or an energetic stance, the judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 key personality traits. The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.
“We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information,” says Gosling, “but what’s striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple as a single photograph.” Gosling cautioned that observers still make plenty of mistakes, but noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.
Of course, the implication is that a picture posted on eHarmony may reveal much more information that the poster would want and the viewer may be able to unknowingly capture those traits. However, the researchers also said that a person posting pictures can use this information to their advantage: “If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose,” Naumann said.
Detailed findings of the study will be published in the December 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.