The blessing and the curse of asking a close friend for their opinion is that you know you’ll be getting a dose of no-holds-barred honesty: A true pal won’t shy away from the tough love if that person you just started dating is kind of a jerk, or if you’re actually being the petty one in that passive-aggressive roommate standoff, or if your Facebook profile picture makes you look like a little bit of a goober.
And you should especially trust them on that last one — it’s not the most consequential piece of advice a friend can give you, but it’s one where they probably know better than you. According to a study published last month in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, people are pretty bad at knowing which photos of themselves will make a good impression.
For the study, each participant provided the authors with 12 photos of themselves taken from their Facebook profile. The researchers then cropped each photo to just the face and asked the subjects to pick which of the 12 they’d be most likely to use as a profile photo for Facebook, LinkedIn, or a dating site. Separately, participants also rated each of their photos based on the attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, competence, and confidence they believed they projected. As a next step, the researchers recruited a new group of volunteers to rate the same batch of photos — and there wasn’t much overlap between what people thought of their own photos and how other people perceived them.
One possible explanation for the discrepancy: We may be too familiar with our own faces to judge them accurately. Or, more specifically, we think too highly of our own faces to judge them accurately: Previous research has shown that people are biased to think of themselves as appearing more trustworthy and more attractive than people they don’t know.
“This phenomenon has clear practical significance,” the study authors wrote: “Should people wish to ‘put their best face forward,’ they should ask someone else to choose it.” A first impression, after all, is as much about what the other person’s picking up as it is about what you’re putting down.