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Westerners Zooming In For Facebook Profile Pics

When it comes to Facebook profile photos, Westerners are more likely to go for the ultra-tight face shot than people in other parts of the world. At least, that's what a new study published in the International Journal of Psychology tells us. Mr. Zuckerberg, we're ready for our close-up.

The study, entitled "Cultural influences On Facebook Photographs," finds that people in Eastern cultures, particularly Asian countries, like to zoom out to include a little bit of background scenery in their Facebook profile photos. People in Western countries, however, like to zoom in for the tight shot, the closer the better. Who is that half of a face with a visible blackhead behind those Foster Grants? The researchers suggest the tightness of the shot could have an impact on hiring managers:

Worth thinking about next time you're updating your online profile pictures - for example, on your LinkedIn profile, what impression are you giving of yourself? Are potential employers seeing a close-up of your face, and will they think you're a hands-on, details-oriented person? Or should you consider a wider angle and a more interesting background, presenting you as an expansive ‘big picture’ employee?

Wow, this job applicant is so close to the camera that she must be a hands-on, detail-oriented kind of person! Wow, that job applicant looks so tiny next to the background scenery that he must be able to see the big picture -- literally!!

Hmm, I'm not so sure I'm sold on this line of reasoning. I suspect most hiring managers go to Facebook simply hoping that a promising job applicant's profile shot doesn't feature him or her passed out drunk on the floor wearing broken sunglasses and a sombrero.

Such research, however, begs the question: should job applicants aim for some sort of middle ground in their Facebook profile photos (e.g., not too tight, not too wide) to look both "big picture" and "hands-on"? It seems the logical extension of the study, no? But that's neither here nor there, because ultimately the researchers conclude there's a big difference in how people from different cultures treat the "contextual" information around them:

These findings echo previous research on cultural factors influencing cognitive preferences: East Asians are more sensitive to contextual information than Westerners, who tend to process focal and discrete attributes of the environment. This is the first evidence that such real-world trends are carried over into the way we present ourselves online.

Or maybe we Americans just watch way too much reality teevee and want our 15 minutes of fame, even if it's just zooming in for a thumbnail profile photo on Facebook?

Still, a Facebook profile pic does say something about how we see ourselves. Or maybe you're one of those people who thinks they take horrible pictures but you've found the ONE PHOTO you can upload that doesn't show you hunched over and squinting with your mouth in a partially-open frown. Next time, zoom out to get a tree in the photo, okay?


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