Jennifer Sedgewick is master's student in the Department of Psychology.
Jennifer Sedgewick is master's student in the Department of Psychology.

Profile pictures worth a thousand words

For most people, using Tinder at work is a no-no.

For Jennifer Sedgewick, a master’s student in the Department of Psychology at the U of S, it was a summer research project that yielded some interesting results in how men and women portray themselves on dating sites.

Sedgewick works in Lorin Elias’ human neuropsychology lab, which examines how differences between brain hemispheres contribute to lateral biases in perception and attention. She was curious as to how people perceived men and women as attractive on dating apps such as Tinder.

Her research, she explained, is grounded in a psychological theory called conceptual metaphors, which denotes that how people understand metaphors is how they act in real life.

“For example, if you are trying to convey power, you would try to convey yourself to be taller or show other people as subordinate,” she said.

Sedgewick found this theme prevalent in how men and women vertically represented themselves in selfie-style photos. She collected her data last summer, analyzing over 900 profile photos from the app. After parsing the selfies from the non-selfies, she found some distinct gender differences in the selfie pile.

“Men tended to hold (the phone) from below whereas women were more likely to orient it from above,” she said.

For men, not only does holding the phone from below give the impression of being bigger, but it also pronounces features associated with masculinity, like a bigger jawline and smaller eyes. Women, on the other hand, tended to orient their selfies from above, which makes them appear smaller and manipulates other features associated with femininity, such as bigger eyes.

This pattern is consistent with what the literature would suggest is attractive for men versus women, she explained, as well as with other dating sites where men tend to over-report their height and women under-report their weight.

Additionally, selfies accounted for 90 per cent of women’s profile photos—versus 54 per cent of men’s photos—which would suggest that women are taking and sharing more selfies than men.

“If (men are) taking less selfies, maybe they’re relying on other photos,” said Sedgewick, noting that the men in her study were more likely to use group photos in their Tinder profile. “Or even if they did take selfies, they might not want to send out that image that they are the type that takes selfies.”

The research paper was published in a recent selfies edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology, and has since been disseminated and shared widely on news sites around the world.

Sedgewick’s interest in this type of social psychology research piqued while completing her undergraduate degree, when she took classes from Elias—now her graduate supervisor—on laterality and how that translates to real life behaviour. Her master’s thesis examines the directional bias in lateral kissing behaviours.

“It’s hard to not be interested in things you do every day, especially with behaviours like kissing or even when viewing works of art,” she said. “You don’t always think about things like that.”
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