Research Highlights

A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos - By Alixandra Barasch

Alixandra Barasch

NYU Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch explains how candid photos are seen as more authentic

People often assume that a curated, polished version of the self will generate the most favorable responses—that by smoothing rough edges and presenting one’s best side, others will like and want to interact with them more. But this assumption is not always correct.

NYU Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch explains how candid photos are seen as more authentic

While most social media and online dating site users post posed photos of themselves to connect with new friends and dates, new joint research from NYU Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch finds that candid photos elicit more favorable responses in the context of friendship and dating because they seem more genuine.

The paper, co-authored by Professor Barasch and Jonah Berger at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, is titled “A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos,” and was recently published in Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Across five experiments, the researchers examined whether candid photos increase interest in friendship and dating. Their findings include:
  • Observers were more interested in being friends with someone or dating them if that person used a candid (rather than a posed) photo
  • Candid photos made people seem more genuine, which increased observers’ desire to get to know them better
  • Learning that a person was aware the “candid” photo was being taken detracted from their perceived genuineness; in other words, awareness moderated the positive effect of “candidness”
“People often assume that a curated, polished version of the self will generate the most favorable responses—that by smoothing rough edges and presenting one’s best side,
others will like and want to interact with them more. But this assumption is not always correct,” the authors write.

“In some cases, viewers prefer an unvarnished picture because it seems more genuine,” explains Professor Barasch.  “People value authenticity because it feels more accurate.”

The researchers did note, however, that the specific context a photo is used should factor into choosing a candid or posed shot.  For instance, additional data collected showed that people are more interested in hiring someone who used a posed rather than candid photo on LinkedIn.

To speak with Professor Barasch, please contact her directly at abarasch@stern.nyu.edu or 212-998-0511; or contact Carolyn Ritter at 212-998-0624 or critter@stern.nyu.edu or Kimberly Couzens at 212-998-0923 or kcouzens@stern.nyu.edu in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs.