WELLNESS
07/30/2015 11:53 am ET

People Are Terrible At Picking Photos That Actually Look Like Them

Your favorite selfies are really just lies.

The next time you change your Facebook photo, you may want to ask a stranger to select it if you want the most accurate portrait of yourself. A new study suggests that people are actually really terrible at picking pictures that most accurately represent their faces.

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There are currently more than 300 million photos tagged "selfie" on Instagram, but they may not be particularly accurate representations of the self, according to researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia. 

Researchers had 130 undergraduate students analyze 10 selfies downloaded from Facebook and rank them in order of likeness. The same participants also recorded a two-minute webcam video of their faces and provided two still photos, taken at the time of the experiment.

Next, 16 participants who didn't know the undergraduate students examined the videos and ranked the Facebook photos based on likeness. The researchers then brought in 73 more strangers to complete an online face-matching test using the undergraduates' photos. Finally, the researchers ran the selfies through an online facial recognition test. 

The results? The self-selected images were 7 percent less accurate than the ones the strangers chose. The strangers were better judges of likeness between the photos and reality. 

It appears that a person's self-perception may interfere with the ability to choose accurate depictions, according to the researchers. "Although we live with our own face day-to-day, it appears that knowledge of one’s own appearance comes at a cost," lead study researcher Dr. David White said in a statement. "Existing memory representations interfere with our ability to choose images that are good representations or faithfully depict our current appearance."

The new research offers some insight into the physical side of our own self-perception (previous research also suggests that our self-perception may be off when it comes to our personalities in the future, too).

Humans' overall perception of resemblance or image is "inherently unstable," the researchers noted. In other words, the mind is a tricky, tricky thing. Given that we spend all of our time with our own facial features, we seem to lose the ability to be objective when it comes to accurately knowing what we look like. 

Perhaps this could be why we always loathe our driver's license photo (which is usually taken and chosen by someone else) but are satisfied with the twenty-seventh selfie we've snapped before a night out. The first scenario may capture a more spot-on picture of our face, but chances are you won't see that photo on Instagram.

The results were published in June in the British Journal of Psychology.

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