Author Branding

The 7 Elements of the Best Profile Pictures

The 7 Elements of the Best Profile Pictures

Illustrated Thanksgiving Greeting Instagram Post

Profile Pictures

One of the first things

I do when I join a new social network is to upload a profile picture.

  • But which profile picture should I choose?
  • Is there a best one?
  • Is there such a thing as a perfect, best profile picture?

Interestingly, there’s been some rather great research about the different elements of profile pictures that have the biggest impact on an audience. The psychology and science behind a perfect profile picture leave some great guidelines on how to influence your audience and possibly gain more followers.

There’s been a host of research done on the various elements of a profile picture—how to look, how to not look, what to wear, whether to smile. The specifics of these studies are outlined below.

Human beings have a natural tendency to follow the gaze of others, and we have been coached since birth to follow arrows directing us to where we should be looking/going.

Brian Jay Nelson

In 40 milliseconds, we’re able to conclude people based on a photo. That’s less than one-half of one-tenth of a second. Wow! This finding from Psychological Science underscores the vital importance of a profile picture and the effect it has on making an impression.

Here’s an overview of all the best practices for coming up with the best profile picture on social media:

  • Smile with teeth
  • Dark-colored suits, light-colored button-downs
  • Jawline with a shadow
  • Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo
  • Squinch
  • Asymmetrical composition
  • Unobstructed eyes

Worth trying out:

  • Facing the camera (or not)
  • Bright background

And things to avoid:

  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair, glare, and shadows over the eyes
  • Laughing smile
  • Sexiness

How to appear approachable, helpful, and attractive

Researchers at the Department of Psychology at the University of York analyzed 1,000 images of faces to find the specific facial tics and features that help make a good first impression.

They came up with 65 different features that could affect one’s perceptions, things like “nose curve” and “cheekbone position” and “head area.” For each of the 65 features, they noted the effect of each on the following three distinct dimensions:

  • Approachability – “Does this person want to help or harm me?”
  • Dominance – “Can this person help or harm me?”
  • Youthful-attractiveness – “Might this person be a good romantic partner or a rival?”

(It’s amazing the level of detail the researchers found. They created cartoon-like faces based on every possible variation.)

Here were the findings:

(How to read this chart: App stands for Approachability, Yo-Att stands for Youthful-attractiveness, and Dom stands for Dominance. A positive number means a positive correlation, and a negative number means a negative correlation.)

Overall, the researchers noted that the most meaningful factors in each of the three dimensions seemed to group around common traits.

For approachability, the mouth was key.

  • Mouth area
  • Mouth height
  • Mouth width
  • Mouth gap
  • Bottom lip curve

For youthful-attractiveness, the eyes were key.

  • Eye area
  • Iris area
  • Eye height
  • Eye width

For dominance:

  • Eyebrow height
  • Cheek gradient
  • Eye gradient
  • Skin saturation
  • Skin value variation

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