The study, from University of New South Wales, and published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, had participants take profile photos of themselves to be used for social networking sites, professional networking sites, and dating sites. They were then asked to choose which ones they’d be most likely and least likely to use, and rated each photo for attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, competence, and confidence. Participants then had to do the same thing for another set of images that belonged to a stranger.
The researchers found that images chosen by strangers made a much better first impression than images chosen by the individuals themselves. David White, the study’s lead author, suggests this is because we tend to favor images of ourselves that emphasize physical attractiveness. That’s all well and good in some situations, but it’s not always the most important quality people are looking for. It’s better to appear competent and confident on sites like LinkedIn, for example, and looking trustworthy on a dating site can be better than looking hot. White says people are good at picking up those subtleties in other people’s faces, but we’re not so good at doing it with our own.
Of course, this study was done with complete strangers, not friends, so they aren’t sure how effective people close to you can be at picking a better profile photo. That said, it doesn’t hurt to at least get a second opinion on the photos you choose. You probably can’t trust yourself to see anything beyond how attractive you look. If you don’t have anyone around to help you out, though, you can always try “squinching” your eyes and using open body language.