I’m going to start with the bad news and end with the hack, so stay with me.
The bad news: researchers out of the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia have demonstrated that we, the average person, have an inflated sense of our attractiveness. In the study, researchers took photographs of participants and then digitally either improved upon or worsened the participant’s attractiveness. Participants saw the photographs and were asked to select the original photograph from the modified photographs. Time and time again, participants selected the one modified to improve their appearance as the “accurate” photograph. Despite our inability to see ourselves clearly, we don’t offer the same generosity to others. Instead, study participants easily identified the unmodified photographs of others as such.
This propensity for self-enhancement holds true for predictions about our behavior as well. We are overly optimistic about our health outcomes, our likelihood to vote, our likelihood to give to charity and our driving ability. If you read this and reflexivity thought, “that’s true for other people, but not me,” you’re typical. Research shows most people think they are above average at accurate self assessment, a statistical impossibility.
So what’s the hack?
I promised one but I’ve actually got two.
People are actually extremely good at accurately assessing other people. So asking your partner, “does this dress make my butt look big?” is actually a more useful exercise than we’ve been taught to believe. The trouble, of course, is getting honest feedback.
To that end, I give you Photofeeler. Photofeeler is a data science company with the goal of helping people land jobs and life partners by optimizing their profile pictures.
It’s a simple but clever product: you upload a profile picture and then you wait to see what other people on the site think of it. There are categories for your dating profile pictures, your business headshots, and your social photos. You rate other people, thus building up “karma” and getting your photo rated by others. Or, if you’re in a hurry, you can just purchase credits and skip rating others. I wish you courage and fortitude as you discover how you look to others!
Here’s the second hack: as I explored in an earlier blog post, research suggests a huge disparity in what people think about a professionally photographed person versus, say, that same person in a cell phone photograph. Therefore, you can hack the system by having a beautiful, professional portrait taken.
If you’re in Northern California, it’s time to schedule a portrait session with me. If you’re near Solvang, you need to check out film photographer Tatiana Johnson who took every portrait (of me) in this post.