According to a new study, people don't really pay attention to the words in your Facebook profile — they just look at the picture. Unless you're doing something weird, that is — like hanging out by yourself.
The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Communication (via ScienceDaily), made two profiles — one with a group photo and text reading "I'm happiest hanging out with a big group of friends," and another with a solo photo of a person on a park bench and the text, "I'm happiest curled up in my room with a good book" (ew, reading). They showed some study subjects the photos with matching text — but for others, they switched them, pairing the loner photo with the social text and vice versa. Then they asked the subjects whether the person in the profile was an extrovert or an introvert. When people saw the social photo, they ignored the text, even if it implied the person was a weirdo book-learner. But when they saw the park-bench photo, they read a little more carefully. If the text described hanging out with friends, they gave the person the benefit of the doubt — says lead study author Brandon Van Der Heide, "They were still seen as introverted, because of their photo showing them alone on the park bench. But they got a little bump up in their extraversion rating because of their profile text suggesting they were extraverted."
Basically, Van Der Heide thinks people judge their peers on social-networking sites based on photos alone — unless something seems off. He says, "People will accept a positive photo of you as showing how you really are. But if the photo is odd or negative in any way, people want to find out more before forming an impression." So just hanging out on a park bench is odd now? Maybe — at least on Facebook. Van Der Heide speculates that on social networking sites, people are supposed to make themselves look as fun-loving and popular as possible. He says, "If the photograph fits that image, people have little reason to question his or her judgments about this person's characteristics."
If you think about it, this is kind of surprising. Doesn't everybody know that no one's as social as they look on Facebook? That we're all just uploading old party photos while hunched grimly over our laptops, consumed with loneliness and envy? I guess not — and maybe that's why Facebook is so depressing. It makes us assume that everyone is always partying with 8 billion friends — even if their own words say otherwise.