Posted On Wednesday, June 06, 2012 at 02:42:03 PM
Researchers have revealed that the photos people select to use for their Facebook profiles may reflect individual preferences, but they also appear to reflect more deeply rooted and unconscious cultural differences.
Earlier research has shown that culture can affect not only language and custom, but also how we experience the world and process information.Western cultures, for example, condition people to think of themselves as highly independent individuals, whereas East Asian cultures give great importance to collectivism and interdependence.
As such, Westerners tend to focus on central objects or faces more than on their surroundings when observing a scene or painting portrait.On the other hand, East Asians, tend to focus on context as well as objects such as the scenery behind a person.Dr. Denise Park, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity and distinguished University chair in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, and former graduate student, Dr. Chih-Mao Huang of the University of Illinois, were curious about whether these patterns of cultural influence have their impact on the cyberspace.
They analysed the profile photographs of more than 500 active Facebook users from the United States and East Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan).They found that profile photos of Americans are more likely to focus on the individual's face, while the profiles of East Asians tend to de-emphasize the face and capture more surrounding features. Besides this, Americans also show greater smile intensity compared to East Asian Face bookers.
The findings show marked cultural differences in the focus of attention among East Asian and American Facebook users. Moreover, they are in-sync with previous research on cultural influences on visual perception, attention, and reasoning in the offline world.
"We believe these findings relate to a cultural bias to be more individualistic and independent in the U.S. and more communal and interdependent in Asia," said Park.
The research also discovered that cultural influences over our self-presentation online could shift over time and from place to place.In one of the study samples, Americans studying in Taiwan and Taiwanese studying in the United States both demonstrated a tendency to adjust their profile photos to the general preferences of their host country.
"Facebook constitutes an extended social context in which personal profiles mirror various individual characteristics, private thoughts, and social behaviors," said Huang.
"As such, the study presents a novel approach to investigate cognition and behaviors across cultures by using Facebook as a data collection platform," he added.
This study has been published in the International Journal of Psychology.