Can your Facebook profile picture predict how smart you are?


When it comes to other people’s Facebook profile pictures, do you judge a book by its cover? A new study on intelligence and Facebook profile pictures found your initial impression is not likely to be correct.

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An algorithm can  predict how smart you are based on your profile picture

Recently, researchers in the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. formulated an algorithm that would predict how smart someone is based on their Facebook picture. The algorithm takes into account not only faces, but behavioral attributes such as how someone poses, their choice of clothing and whether or not other people are present in the picture — which all present clues about the person’s level of intelligence. 

Profile images from 1,225 Facebook users who had taken an IQ test were used in the study. Study scholars examined each profile picture carefully in conjunction with the results of their IQ test. 

Most people judge other people’s intelligence inaccurately

The study also found that humans are actually not so smart when it comes to identifying whether someone is intelligent based on their Facebook profile picture. 

Though attributes such as smiling or wearing glasses were thought to be attributes for intelligence, when it comes down to the facts, this isn’t exactly true. 

Xingjie Wei, one of the authors of the study told Digital Trends, “Our results give insights into inaccurate stereotyping from profile pictures.’

Because of this, not only did the algorithm predict people’s intelligence based on their profile pictures — it also predicted their perceived intelligence by others. 

‘A mismatch indicates an inaccurate stereotype and an inaccurate judgment,’ said Wei. 

She also commented on the importance of HR managers taking these results into account when seeking out job candidates. 


‘We hope our research can provide insights for people to better manage their self-representations online — and perhaps a cautionary note for HR managers who routinely use social media to scope out candidates in advance.’

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So what makes a smart picture?

According to the study, the authentically intelligent individuals’ profile pictures had these elements:

  • The color green, but not pink, purple or red 
  • Less diversified in color, more clear in texture; containing less skin area
  • Fewer faces in their images; a single person in the picture
  • In focus; an uncluttered background

Additionally, the following attributes were found in pictures where others thought the person to be smarter, but in fact were not smarter in reality: 

  • Containing more grey and white, but less brown and green
  • Higher chromatic purity
  • Smiling
  • Wearing glasses
  • Faces at a proper distance from the camera

The algorithm found these picture attributes make people look intelligent, no matter how smart they really are.

‘Most ‘real’ intelligent people in our dataset understand that a profile picture is most effective with a single person, captured in focus, and with an uncluttered background,” said Wei.

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