Choosing face: The curse of self in profile image selection

David White (Corresponding Author), Clare AM Sutherland, Amy L Burton

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21 Citations (Scopus)
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People draw automatic social inferences from photos of unfamiliar faces and these first impressions are associated with important real-world outcomes. Here we examine the effect of selecting online profile images on first impressions. We model the process of profile image selection by asking participants to indicate the likelihood that images of their own face (“self-selection”) and of an unfamiliar face (“other-selection”) would be used as profile images on key social networking sites. Across two large Internet-based studies (n = 610), in line with predictions, image selections accentuated favorable social impressions and these impressions were aligned to the social context of the networking sites. However, contrary to predictions based on people’s general expertise in self-presentation, other-selected images conferred more favorable impressions than self-selected images. We conclude that people make suboptimal choices when selecting their own profile pictures, such that self-perception places important limits on facial first impressions formed by others. These results underscore the dynamic nature of person perception in real-world contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by Australian Research Council grants to DW (LP130100702) and CS (DP170104602), postdoctoral research support from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, University of Western Australia (CE110001021) and an ESRC Overseas Institutional Visit award (ES/1900748/1) to CS. The authors thank Manuela Tan and undergraduate volunteers at the UNSW School of Psychology for assisting with the pilot work that led to this research.


  • face perception
  • self perception
  • impression formation
  • interpersonal accuracy
  • online social networks
  • visual communication
  • photography


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