Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin wanted to find out if photographs could provide enough information for people to make valid first impressments. Observers were asked to view photographs of people they had never met and to rate the person depicted on ten different personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation. The photos depicted people in one of two poses – (1) a controlled, neutral facial expression or (2) a spontaneous, natural expression. The observer ratings were then compared to those of three people who knew the photographed person well.
The researchers found, when viewing the natural poses, observers were able to judge 9 out of the ten traits with some degree of accuracy. Researcher/Psychologist, Sam Gosling, Ph.D., says one of the key clues to personality trait is a smile. People who smile tend to be seen as friendly, open and relaxed. On the other hand, those who don’t smile are often believed to be introverted, less responsible, tense, close-minded and not friendly.
Other clues to personality are neatness, dress (style and fit), body language, hair style and even whether the person is sitting or standing (standing is more natural). Gosling says pictorial judgments tend to be a little less telling for women than for men because women tend to be more fashion conscious, neat and healthy.
Gosling says people who post pictures on Internet networking sites should remember that their image will be seen by many people who may make quick judgments based simply on a picture. To make the best first impression based on a photo, he recommends making sure the person in the picture is smiling, relaxed and neatly dressed.