You can bet the guy holding the surfboard is out-doorsy and chill, the one with the metal T-shirt isn't, and the girl making pouty selfie face is probably pretty concerned with her appearance. But beyond this sort of obvious amateur detective work, what else can you learn about a person from just a glimpse of their social media profile pic?

According to science, way more than you imagine.

A huge body of research shows that humans have a weird ability to assess each other's personalities from only the quickest glimpses (that's one of the reasons first impressions are so important and so lasting). And a new study reveals we don't even have to meet someone in person to do it. A quick glance at Facebook (or Tinder) will often suffice.

The "Big 5" personality traits and your profile picture

What astrology is to women's magazines and Myers-Briggs is to corporate recruiting, "the Big 5" is to scientific discussions of personality. The research-validated framework for classifying personalities rates people along five dimensions: introversion-extraversion, openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Turns out just a quick glance at your Twitter pic is enough for someone to rate you fairly accurately on many of these dimensions, a new study highlighted by PsyBlog suggests. Here's what the researchers discovered when they compared a scientific analysis of thousands of participants' personalities to their social media profile pictures:

  • Conscientiousness: "More conscientious people used pictures that were more natural, colorful and bright. They expressed the most emotions of all the different personality types," explains PsyBlog.
  • Openness: Awesome pics tended to belong to those high in openness (this trait is strongly linked with creativity). The pictures had more contrast and were generally more artistic or unusual. If the face takes up more of the frame than usual that's also a good sign of openness.
  • Extraversion: No surprises here: extraverts were often shown surrounded by others, used colorful photos, and smiled broadly.
  • Neuroticism: A simple photo with little color is a sign of high neuroticism. "People higher in neuroticism... were more likely to show a blank expression or even to be hiding their face," PsyBlog adds.
  • Agreeableness: Nice people aren't the best photographers it turns out. "Highly agreeable people post relatively poor pictures of themselves...but they are probably smiling and the pictures are bright and lively," the research showed.

Do you think you can often get a good initial sense of someone's personality just from a profile pic? And if so, do these findings match your personal observations?

Published on: Jun 27, 2017