This article was published on May 28, 2012

Choosing your Facebook profile photo might have more to do with your culture than you realise

Choosing your Facebook profile photo might have more to do with your culture than you realise

A lot of thought probably goes into the photo you choose to use for your Facebook profile, but a new study shows that your culture might have far more to do with that decision than you think.

Research Digest points to a study which shows that Facebook users in the US and Taiwan have a distinctly different approach to their profile photos.

We’re not talking so much the pose, the arm hidden just out of view of the camera in one of those ‘spontaneous’ portraits that just happened to catch them from the perfect angle. The researchers’ main focus was on studying the face to frame ratio in Facebook profile photos.

Conducting two separate studies, they came away with the conclusion that Americans users tend to prefer close-ups, keeping the focus on their faces, complete with big, flashy smiles, while Taiwanese users prefer a photo taken from a distance, which shows a little bit more of their surroundings.

As far as expressions are concerned, while Americans tend to prefer a big smile, Asian Facebook users prefer a less intense facial expression in their photos.

The first time around, they studied 200 Facebook profiles of students – half of them living in the US attending the University of Illinois, the other half living in Taiwan, attending the National Taiwan University. With Americans and Taiwanese citizens in both groups, the study found that regardless of their location, Facebook users tend to follow cultural trends when choosing a profile photo.

The second time around, they widened the net, studying the Facebook profiles of 312 students at three US universities, in California and Texas, and three Asian universities, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and came away with the same conclusion.

The researchers explain:

“Overall, the two studies clearly showed that East Asian Facebook users are more likely to deemphasize their faces compared to Americans. Specifically, East Asians living in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan exhibited a predilection for context inclusiveness in their profile photographs, whereas Americans tended to prioritize their focal face at the expense of the background.”

While the study may be new as far as Facebook trends are concerned, giving a little bit of new insight into how culture can influence social networking choices, these choices are perfectly in line with portraiture choices in general.

Cultural intricacies are making their way from our offline world, and are finding their way into the social media world, and photography is certainly a medium that can be highly influenced by cultural background.

Last year we took a look at a Pixable’s study into Facebook profile photos, but rather than looking at it from a cultural perspective, the study analysed trends according to gender and user interaction, finding that women tend to change their profile photos more often than men.

Now with the added option of a cover photo, to show off more than just your face, it would no doubt be interesting to find out if culture, or anything else for that matter plays a part in what Facebook users choose to dominate their Facebook profile.