Project Your Personality In Photos

A new Finnish study suggests that you can succeed in conveying specific personality impressions (even when they are not typical of you) by posing yourself expressively according to express basic personality traits.

A new Finnish study led by Sointu Leikas has explored this idea by asking 60 participants (average age 27; 30 men) to pose for 11 photographs, from waist up, against a white background. The first photo was simply taken as they posed freely. Next, they posed the extremes of each of the Big Five personality traits, described to them as: stable and calm (low neuroticism); anxious and distressed (high neuroticism); extraverted and enthusiastic (high extraversion); reserved and quiet (low extraversion); intellectually curious / daydreamer (high openness); conventional / does not like change (low openness); empathic and warm (high agreeableness); critical and quarrelsome (low agreeableness); dependable and self-disciplined (high conscientiousness); and unorganised and careless (low conscientiousness). The participants weren't allowed to change their clothing or hair to create these various impressions.

The photos were subsequently shown to 401 observer participants (average age 26, 343 women). Each observer rated the personality of the person depicted in 11 photos, each showing a different posing participant in one of the various posing conditions. Attractiveness of the posers was controlled for in the analysis, given that attractiveness is known to influence perceptions of personality.

In many cases the participants succeeded in conveying specific personality impressions, even when different from their true personality scores, but this varied with the particular personality traits in question. They were most effective at portraying either high or low extraversion. Openness was also conveyed quite successfully. Past research has shown that high-scorers on Openness tend to look away from the camera, so it's possible the posing participants in the current study realised this, perhaps subconsciously.

The posers also had partial success with neuroticism and conscientiousness: they were rated as less conscientiousness when attempting to appear as unorganised, compared with their neutral photo; and they were rated as more neurotic when they attempted to appear anxious, as compared with their neutral photo. Attempts to appear stable or dependable and self-disciplined did not work so well. Another striking finding was the posers' complete failure to convey reliably either high or low agreeableness. Observer ratings were all over the place for this trait, perhaps due to a reluctance to score strangers on this dimension on the basis of such limited evidence. "From an applied perspective, this can be considered fortunate," the researchers said, "because it suggests that it is difficult to convey a false image of high Agreeableness."

In his legendary 1965 novel Dune, Frank Herbert creates the idea of a special portrait, an ego-likeness. It's not just a picture; the novel describes it as "portraiture reproduced through a shigawire projector that is capable of reproducing subtle movements said to convey the ego essence".

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them--my father and this man in the portrait--both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. "Princess-daughter,"my father said, "I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman."

Via BPS Research Digest.

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