|People who pull selfie “duck faces” are seen
as lazy and emotionally unstable
The rise of the selfie (and its widespread use on social media) has given people more control than ever over the impression they present to the world. But to date, without any scientific testing, the choices people make about how to present themselves are presumably based on instinct. Now that can change (maybe).
Lin Qiu and his colleagues recruited 123 users of the popular Chinese Sina Weibo microblogging website (similar to Twitter) who pictured themselves with a selfie*. The researchers asked the participants to complete a personality questionnaire, and then they asked 107 Chinese students to look at the selfies and make their own judgments about the owners’ personalities.
The researchers rated each selfie based on 13 cues: whether the poser adopted a duck face; pressed their lips together or not; looked at the camera; amount of emotional positivity; camera height; camera in front or to the side; amount of face on view; amount of body on display; whether location information was shown; whether a public location was revealed; a private location; and whether there was evidence of photoshop editing.
Writing in Computers in Human Behaviour, the researchers found several of these cues correlated with the participants’ personalities. Specifically, people who scored higher in agreeableness (similar to friendliness) were more likely to show positive emotion in their selfies and to hold the camera in a lower position; high-scorers on conscientiousness were less likely to reveal a private location in the background (presumably because of concerns about privacy); people who scored higher in neuroticism (suggestive of emotional instability) were more likely to pull a duck face; and finally, higher scores in openness-to-experience correlated with showing more positive emotion. Levels of extraversion were not correlated with any of the cues, perhaps because so many people attempt to appear outgoing in their selfies.
So these were the actual links between cues in the selfies and the participants self-reported personality scores, but did the Chinese students instinctively use these cues to infer the personalities of the selfie owners? Mostly the answer was “no”. There was strong agreement among the students about the participants’ personalities, suggesting that people tend to make similar assumptions about personality based on cues in selfie pictures, but these assumptions were mostly wrong or simply not sensitive enough. The only personality trait detected with any level of accuracy was openness-to-experience – the observers correctly assumed that selfie-owners who showed more positive emotion were more open-minded.
What cues did the observers rely on? They assumed that more positive emotion and a lack of pressed lips were signs of extraversion; that positive emotion and looking to the camera were signs of agreeableness; that duck face and editing indicated low conscientiousness and photos in public places meant higher conscientiousness; and that negative emotion, duck face and a partially hidden face or zoomed in face, and being alone, were signs of neuroticism. Some of these assumptions were correct, but not sensitive enough to make meaningful inferences; other assumptions were just wrong.
The stark lesson from this research is that if you don’t want people to assume that you are lazy and neurotic, drop the duck face. This research isn’t quackery, but it does have some notable limitations, most obviously that the results might not apply in other cultures, and that the owners of the selfies rated their own personalities. Nonetheless, it makes a novel contribution, with the authors claiming theirs is the first ever study of links between personality and selfies. “By identifying valid cues related to selfie owners’ personality traits,” they said, “our research provides important information for future work to improve the accuracy of human or machine prediction of personality from selfies.”
Qiu, L., Lu, J., Yang, S., Qu, W., & Zhu, T. (2015). What does your selfie say about you? Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 443-449 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.06.032
*There were no differences in personality between Weibo users who pictured themselves with a selfie or other type of pic. Selfie-owners were younger and more likely to be female than non-selfie Weibo users.
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