What Your Profile Picture Says About Where You’re From

Cultural differences exist on Facebook! An analysis of profile pictures of Western and East Asian users confirms that culture persists in cyberspace, too.

A quick Google search will bring up dozens of scholarly articles on the major differences in Western and East Asian cultures — democracy, individuality vs. collectivism, cooperation, etc. — but a new study of Facebook profile pictures reveals that these differences likely exist online, too.

Back in 2006, social-psychologist Richard Nisbett illustrated how differently things are viewed, literally, in these two contrasting cultures. Nisbett and his colleagues showed Western and East Asian participants images of animals in different settings, asking them to remember the animals (as they would later be tested.) Upon second viewing, they found that Western participants were unaffected by the setting — they remembered the animal regardless of the background — whereas East Asian participants were much more likely to answer incorrectly if the animal was in a new setting.

It was one of the first studies that revealed some of the cognitive differences among these two cultures — and now cognitive neuroscientists from the University of Texas at Dallas have found that, on Facebook, we tend to adhere to these standards too. They analyzed the profile pictures of 500 Western and East Asian users and found that Americans generally opt for up-close-and-personal headshots, whereas East Asians tend to focus less on the face and more on the background.

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