Judging a (Face)Book by its Cover Photo

Wed 14 March 2012 12:03, Leanne Collyer

Judging a (Face)Book by its Cover Photo

In just two weeks (March 30th.) everyone in the Facebook world will have to adopt the new time line, a part of which means uploading a 'cover photo'. This picture will accompany your original profile photo and is a great way to express your interests, personality or style, as well as being an eye catching introduction to your profile. That being said I recently read about a very interesting study conducted by the Ohio State University under the guidance of lead author and assistant professor of communication Brandon Van Der Heide.

Team Van der Heide - who is who
Van der Heide’s 3 ‘man’ crew, consisting of graduate assistant Erin Schumaker, former graduate assistant Jonathan D’Angelo turned Associate Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and himself of course challenged 195 college students to judge a person's level of extroversion, 
based on mock Facebook profiles, which included a photo and a written “about me” statement.

Here’s what Van der Heide had to say about the set up..

“Photos seem to be the primary way we make impressions of people on social networking sites. People will accept a positive photo of you as showing how you really are. But if the photo is odd or negative in any way, people want to find out more before forming an impression”

Participants were asked to view four profiles and subsequently rate according to a 1 – 7 scale, in which 1 represented ‘least extroverted’ and 7 ‘most extroverted’. 


  • Both photo (a person shown socializing with friends) and text (“I’m happiest hanging out with a big group of friends”) suggested an extrovert.
  • Both photo (a person alone on a park bench) and text (“I’m happiest curled up in my room with a good book”) suggested an introvert.
  • This profile was a mix in which the photo suggested an extravert and the text ant introvert.
  • This profile was the opposite of profile 3.

The intention of this setup was ofcourse to check whether the photo or text influenced the rating.


  • Most participants rated a person as an extravert when viewing an extraverted photo and the funny thing is that apparently textual suggestions of being either intro or extraverted hardly mattered..
  • Participants really paid attention to the text when a photo suggested a person to be introverted
  • If the text suggested the person was an extravert, participants rated them as slightly less introverted, but they were still seen as introverted, because of their photo portraying them that way.

“It didn’t matter what the profile text said – what mattered was the photograph,” Van Der Heide added.

Personal view
Although making judgements based on photos is not groundbreaking, it might be good to keep in mind in light of the new Facebook time line. If you need help with your cover photo, there are a range of sites available to help you construct the perfect image, such as Coverphotofinder.com, which was created by two former Facebook interns.

What do you have as your cover photo? Are you concerned about making a good impression with your profile photos?

PS remember to be careful on Facebook, if you haven't read this article yet, then please do..

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Comments (2)


  • I think one reason the photo is more important is that its the first impression and its hard to overcome this bias by the time you get to the text. It would be interesting to put the photo below the fold and the text above it and see if the results are as strong.

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