What Your Facebook Profile Picture Says About You

Einstein Facebook Profile Picture

Can you tell if Einstein is left- or right-brained based on his Facebook profile picture?

I. INTRODUCTION: While our inner thoughts, processes and philosophies are inside of us we can sometimes express those identifiers subconsciously. We’ve heard of left- and right-brained people; here’s an easy chart to help you understand what that means:

Left Brain versus Right Brain

What I want to know is if we can we use self-preferred photography or commissioned art to determine our left- or right- brained bias? Can we learn more about other people based on the images of themselves that they choose to share with the world? I’m going out on a very shaky limb here, so bear with me. I noticed a couple of things while looking at photographs of famous artists or scientists: the scientists generally have their right eye (controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain) in the center of the photograph and the more “creative” types have their left eye (controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain) in the center.

One could just brush this off as coincidence, the style of photographer, or the formality of a forced photography session, but it just kept happening. So I took a look at my twitter picture (my Facebook profile picture, ironically, does not show my face). There it was, my right eye (controlled by left-brain) smack dab in the middle of the image, to the effect of my face being very off-center.

JJ and LKAwesome Profile Pictures

JJ and LKAwesome with Line
Then I checked out the profile picture of the most right-brained person I know – JJ, founder of Philosophy Matters, – he couldn’t have chosen an image to represent himself that was more obsessively focused on his left eye (controlled by his right-brain).

At this point I got chills. Then I was obsessed. Look at Einstein’s most reproduced biographical image (which I can only imagine he approved of, otherwise it wouldn’t have made such a large distribution); right eye (left-brain).

Einstein Left-brained

Shakespeare – left eye, right-brain.

Shakespeare Right-brained

Next I did what any self-respecting scientist with a burning curiosity… I started talking to strangers about this theory; but quickly learned that the more they knew about the experiment, the less of a valuable subject they were. This didn’t turn out so well, so I started approaching strangers in the education department at the university I teach at… “Can I take two pictures of you and ask you two questions?” I would ask, maniacally waving my cell phone around. Since educators are always willing to help they said “Sure!” – I also warned them that I would be reproducing their photos on a blog (since our call out to twitter didn’t result in any pictures yesterday!). So here, my amazing readers, is my aesthetic/brain sidedness lab report:

II. TITLE: Can you tell if someone is left- or right-brained based on his or her profile picture?

III. PURPOSE: Why do we say, “Get my good side!” when taking a photo? Why would we prefer one eye centered to another in a photo of ourselves? Why do we feel uncomfortable with an image of a scientist with their left eye in the center? The purpose of this experiment is to answer these questions (and possibly pose new ones) in addition to enlightening people about their own brain sidedness through a simple diagnostic.

IV. HYPOTHESIS: If people are “left-brained”, then they prefer the image (of themselves) with their right eye in the center. If people are “right-brained”, then they would prefer the image (of themselves) with their left eye in the center.

V. MATERIALS: iPhone 4s to take pictures

VI. PROCEDURE: I took two pictures, one with the right eye centered and one with the left and then had subjects choose whichever one they preferred. I made sure they had the same expression and took two photos in quick succession so nothing in the background changed, which would make them possibly prefer one image to another.

VII. DATA COLLECTION: (see images below)

SUBJECT A: Graduate student, Educator, self-described as “right-brain”. But the picture she chose was with her right eye centered, or left-brain. The picture that I preferred of her was the one with her left eye centered (“right brain”). Uh-oh. What does this mean? As we talked I discovered that she had many traits that were definitely “left brain”; she asked, very logically, for creative input on how to incorporate Angry Birds into elementary curriculum. She took a very practical approach at asking a very creative colleague questions – it was very interesting. I think that, perhaps, she had self-identified herself as “right-brain” because she liked the stereotype associated with being right-brained but was, in fact, left-brained based on the image that she chose of herself.

SUBJECT A

SUBJECT B: Undergraduate student, English major, History minor, self-described as “right-brained”. This one threw me for a loop by choosing her right eye (“left-brain”) centered image, I truly believed that she was “right-brained” after talking with her for a while. She did have a lot of trouble deciding which image to choose, which led me to believe that maybe she chose this image for a more conscious rather than subconscious reason, since the lighting in the “right eye centered” image is a little better. Oh well, null results are still results, right?

SUBJECT B

SUBJECT C: Our very own SWalters! The most left-brained person I know. Self-identified as “left-brained”. However, he chose the “right-brained” image (with left eye centered). For what it was worth, I preferred the image of him with his right eye (or “left-brain”) centered. To me it was more “him”.

SUBJECT C

VIII. CONCLUSION: We prefer images of ourselves that emphasize our brain sidedness. Or so I thought. I’m actually starting to think that it’s not the images that we choose of ourselves, but rather the images that others feel look more like “us”. There are some observer effects at work here.

Additional Notes:

I think that perhaps my sampling in the education department was a bad idea… everyone seems to think that they’re predominately right-brained. Is there a cultural bias for right-brain sidedness? If you read the descriptions above it’s easy to imply that being “left-brain” is somehow pessimistic and “right-brain” is more optimistic. The truth is that we use all of our brains, so we’re naturally a little of both with a dominant side.  What do you think? Do a little experimenting on your own!

Here’s how:

Take a look at the best picture of you. Perhaps it’s your profile picture – why do you like it? Which eye is in the center? Does it represent your brain sidedness? Now go look at your friends! Take similar pictures of yourselves and see which you prefer versus the one your friends prefer.

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