“This is an important task in the modern world, in the digital era,” David White, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of New South Wales Sydney, whose new study, focuses on the issue and was published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. “We make these selections very frequently,” White told TIME.
For the study, White and his colleagues asked approximately 100 college students to download 12 photos of themselves from Facebook and choose the images they’d use for their profile photos on Facebook, LinkedIn, and online dating websites. The researchers then showed the 12 images to strangers and asked them which photos they would choose if they were the person in them. The team then crowdsourced the Internet and asked people to rate each photo based on attractiveness, trustworthiness, and competence.
They found that everyone—the people in the photos and the strangers perusing them—were able to choose the most attractive photo. But when it came to choosing a photo that showed attractiveness, trustworthiness, and competence at the same time, the strangers prevailed; people on the Internet rated the photos chosen by the strangers more favorably than they did the ones chosen by the people in them.
And why are we so bad at it? Apparently, we’re too accustomed to our own faces to choose a flattering photo without bias. “This familiarity appears to make it harder to choose the specific shot that best portrays us,” says White.
It’s an interesting idea, but at its core, there’s a simple takeaway: “The practical advice,” says White, “is that people should really ask someone else to select their next profile picture.”