Want the perfect profile picture? Then ask someone else to choose it

How much thought did you put into your current profile picture on Facebook? Probably a little more than you're willing to admit. Well, it may have been a waste of time - because it's likely that a complete stranger would have done a better job.

That's the rough conclusion of a study published in the journal Cognitive Research, which compared self-selected profile pictures with those chosen by others. Six hundred and ten participants were asked to choose images of themselves that they were most, and least, likely to use on Facebook, on professional sites and on dating sites. 

They rated those images for a collection of different factors - attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, competence and confidence. Then they did the same thing with photos of someone who was a total stranger. 

Finally, a bunch of extra participants rated the images on the same factors without choosing pictures of their own.

Sub-optimal

The results show that people's self-selected images rated worse than those chosen by others. "Contrary to predictions based on people’s general expertise in self-presentation, other-selected images conferred more favorable impressions than self-selected images," the researchers wrote.

"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."

Why? The researchers believe that we tend to look more favourably on photos of ourselves, and these perception biases interfere with our ability to discriminate between images.

"This phenomenon has clear practical significance," the researchers add.

"Should people wish to 'put their best face forward' they should ask someone else to choose it."