Your Unconscious Headshot Brain

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Does your LinkedIn headshot, or any public image of you in general, actually matter all that much? Do you (or does anyone else) really judge a book by its cover…I mean really?

In this enlightened, twenty-first century age we’re more informed, right? We know about unconscious bias so we can actively try to combat it. We know that we mustn’t judge said book by its cover.

Well, unfortunately, I’m afraid we still do. But don’t beat yourself up. It’s not something that you can control.

facial muscles

In humans there are 43 muscles to control facial expression and a highly developed area in the brain for detecting and analysing facial expressions in others.

This evolutionary leap didn’t come about for no reason. Human social interactions are highly complex and very subtle. We communicate facially and gesturally (which I don’t think is a word but, hey) as well as verbally. We express so much by the slightest micro expression that it’s hard to hide our real selves when we are being ourselves.

So what?

Well ok, we know people communicate in subtle ways with their face and body language. Fine. But what about their pictures, do we judge people just from a picture of them? And if so, in what way and to what extent?

In 2016, a little piece of fascinating research was done to test the hypothesis that impressions of a person from their photo could predict how we judge the same people in real life.

Basically, a number of test participants (about 50) were shown pictures of people and asked to give their impressions. Soft judgments on a 1-7 scale were made about whether the images gave the impression of trustworthiness/warmth (liking), dominance, competence, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. The tests were blind i.e. the protagonists did not know why they were being asked to do this or what the nature of the research was.

At least one month later (on avg. 4 months later) the same test subjects were asked to come to the lab and take part in another test which involved interaction with random people (a getting to know you session, and a simple quiz). Again the subjects did not know the underlying research being undertaken or what the reason for the test was.

Unbeknown to the participants, the interactions were with the same people who had been in the photographs (90% of them did not recognise the people they met as the same people that were in the photos). After the interactions, the participants were asked to score the personality and likeness traits again on the same 1-7 scale as before.

The actual hypothesis of this research was to test whether photo-based liking would predict in-person liking. The research showed a strong correlation between the two different sets of scores for trustworthiness and liking, a significant (but less) correlation between the other traits of competence, neurotisicm and agreeableness and little to no correlation for extroversion.

What does this mean? Well it means that seeing a photo of someone will strongly influence how you will feel about that person when you meet them…even after you’ve forgotten the photo! Go figure that!

So, there’s some truth to the old cliché – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. So when that first impression is your headshot, your image should be the real, natural, authentic you. It should portray your as confident, competent and approachable. A good headshot photographer draw these traits out.

If you want your image to work pro-actively for you, get yourself a headshot from someone who knows what they’re doing…then again, as a headshot photographer myself, of course I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Find out how Skyhawk Pictures can help you make that all-important first impression by visiting our corporate headshot page or our actor headshot page.

For those who want to read it, the full research article is here

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