When someone walks into a room, we form a first impression within seven seconds. But when social interactions take place in a cyber world, how are you judged?A new study published in Psychological Science suggests your photo has a lot to do with it. Subtle differences between photos of the same person greatly alter other people’s first impressions of them. In other words, people might jump to very different conclusions about you from a profile picture that to you, may look exactly the same.“Our findings suggest that impressions from still photos of individuals could be deeply misleading,” says psychological scientist Alexander Todorov of Princeton University.For the study, researchers asked participants in an online survey to view and rate target faces on various characteristics, including attractiveness, competence, creativity, cunningness, extraversion, meanness, trustworthiness or intelligence.

misleading first impressions

As you can see in the images above, subjects changed their minds about which person was more trustworthy or extroverted, simply by looking at different photos. Researchers also found that different images of the same person led to noticeably varied first impressions. In the image below, subjects rated similar photos of the same person very differently. Image No. 2 and No. 4 are practically identical, yet Image 2 screams “villian” while Image 4 is fairly neutral compared with the other photos.

misleading first impressions 2

So what does science say about taking a good photo? We know that showing positive emotion in a photo is a sign of future success. In a 30-year study of college yearbook photos, women who appeared genuinely happy in their shots were more likely to have better social skills, more satisfying marriages and better overall well-being. Smiling is also scientifically proven to enhance our beauty and health!The online dating site OkCupid.com compiles research on the profile pics that receive the most messages—and it’s not just “the most attractive” people. Some expressions are more eye-catching than others. Looking flirty “off the screen” isn’t as inviting as directly making eye contact with the camera and smiling. With guys, a smile doesn’t attract as many messages as with women.For guys it’s actually more favorable to look away from the camera and not smile. Looks mysterious.MORE: How to Take a Flattering Photo