Study finds comments on Facebook pictures alter social perception

The research team gathered data by interviewing 104 college students.

Comments on Facebook profile pictures can play a huge role in how one is socially perceived, according to a new study by doctoral student Seoyeon Hong.

The study found insulting comments could have a negative effect on a picture chosen by a user.

“No matter how strong and popular you are in your profile photo, you still have a chance to have other people writing negative comments on your wall,” Hong said. “No matter how people package themselves with extravagant self-presentations, it cannot be very successful without validation from others.”

Comments on a picture are accepted as a more accurate representation than the visual cues given by the picture, Hong said.

“In the online environment, people tend not to believe information they see easily," Hong said. “This is called warranting theory. It emphasizes that judgment from other-generated information is more influential than judgment from self-generated information.”

The study was also published in “Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking” with the purpose of examining the effects of social cues in self-presentations and the congruence of other-generated comments in people's evaluations of a profile owner, according to the journal.

These “social cues” range from other people the user is with in the user's photo to what accessories the user has.

“A social cue is the additional information upon which an impression can be made,” Hong said. “For example, if you are a student at Stanford, you might want to wear a hoodie with the Stanford logo on it so that everyone who sees that picture would know that you are a Stanford student, and a smart one. Or, if someone has a profile picture wearing a Louis Vuitton bag, that means she wants to look rich.”

Hong said the number of these social cues within a picture does not seem to matter, though this will be a subject of interest for her future research.

The research team interviewed 104 college students to gather findings, asking those chosen about both social cues and others' comments, according to an article in The Atlantic.

Associate professor of strategic communication Kevin Wise and other doctoral students assisted Hong with the study. Their findings recommend those wanting to portray a certain view of themselves online should manage the interactions of others on their social media accounts.

“The first thing you see when you are on Facebook is your friend's profile picture,” Hong said. “People make judgments based on contents portrayed on Facebook. That’s why we select a special photo as a profile picture - something that represents yourself, something that positively tells who you are. We all present ourselves online.”

Freshman Charles Bania said he prefers to give new acquaintances the benefit of the doubt.

“For me personally, I never try to pass judgment on someone I don’t know,” Bania said. “If they are a stranger, it’s like, ‘I don’t know you, so carry on.’ Their profile picture is usually just how they are in real life.”

After completing the study, Hong decided to take her findings to heart.

“I used a profile picture taken at the academic conference to make my friends see that I am a successful scholar and a smart doctoral student,” Hong said. “I must say ... It was a successful strategy.”

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