So Long, Selfies : Why Candid Photos Make a Better Impression - Knowledge Wharton
In our increasingly digital society, a friend or colleague’s first impression of you is just as likely to come from a profile photo on a social media site as it is from an in-person meeting. While it’s tempting to display only images where every hair is in place, new research from Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger finds that people are more attracted to authenticity than perfection. In, “A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos,” Berger and co-author Alixandra Barasch of New York University compare audience reactions to posed vs. candid photos in online profiles. When observers viewed profiles that displayed unvarnished images — or those that seemed to be unvarnished — they reported feeling more connected to those people and more interested in getting to know them. Berger recently spoke to Knowledge@Wharton about the research and its implications for how individuals and companies present themselves.
What’s interesting is that would suggest that that photo makes you look the best; that by sharing those posed photos, you’re not only looking good, but you’re helping others get to know you and making them want to interact with you. But we found something that wasn’t entirely in line with that. If you ask posters which photo they would choose, which one they would post, which one they think other people would like more, people have this intuition that posed photos are better. And that is because as a photo taker, you think a lot about how you come off to others. You think by controlling the lighting and your smile, that you’re presenting your best self.
But as an observer, someone who’s looking at those photos, what we found was quite surprising. Candid photos, where someone isn’t looking directly at the camera or looks like they’re not posing, actually lead to better impressions. People are more interested in getting to know someone, more interested in dating them and potentially more interested in being friends with them if that person has a candid rather than posed photo. The reason why is somewhat surprising, but simple once you hear it. It’s all about authenticity or whether someone is genuine. We think that by posting posed photos, people are getting the best version of us. But what we don’t realize is that when people see that best version, they don’t really have a good sense of who we are. Sure, there are a lot of photos online of people looking perfect and smiling. But that doesn’t really tell us much about them because they all look the same. It’s everyone presenting their best self, not their real self.
As a side note, there was a great piece of research recently looking at how stock images have changed over time, particularly of women. The most popular stock image of women, say, 10 years ago was a woman at a spa. Now, it’s a woman mountain climbing. The way these stock images are used really change our perceptions of the world.