Do you really know what you look like?

Who knows your face better than you do? The big nose, the too-thin lips, or those deep dimples: you know them all by heart. And yet, while these characteristics are an integral part of you, strangers that have seen you for barely a minute are actually better at recognizing you in photos. These results were published in The British Journal of Psychology thanks to the work of Dr. David White.

It turns out the many hours you spent gazing at yourself in the mirror have all been for nothing. You think you know every square inch of your face, but this simple study proves otherwise. In Australia, a team of researchers under the supervision of Dr. White carried out a fun experiment that demonstrates that complete strangers can better recognize a face than its owner can.

130 participants provided a dozen photos of their face and ranked each one based on how much they thought it looked like them. Previous work has shown that not all photos perfectly capture an individual's identity. Thus, some photos bear a greater likeness than others. The immobile faces were then filmed for one minute and two photos were taken: one smiling, one neutral. 16 other volunteers, none of whom knew the participants in the first group, watched the video and ranked the photos based on the same instructions. Finally, a third group carried out an online face matching test using the photos of the first group in order to determine which ranking was the most accurate.

The rankings proved to be different between the two groups. More surprisingly, the face matching test revealed that it was actually the strangers who provided the most accurate rankings, performing better than those who had ranked their own photos.

“Although we live with our own face day-to-day, it appears that knowledge of one's own appearance comes at a cost. Existing memory representations interfere with our ability to choose images that are good representations or faithfully depict our current appearance.”

Finally, the photos in which participants were smiling obtained better results during the face matching test. This leads to questions as to the relevance of the current strict guidelines regarding passport photos.
Source: White D., Burton A.L., Kemp R.I. Not looking yourself: The cost of self-selecting photos for identity verification. Br J Psychol. 2015 Jun 23. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12141. [Epub ahead of print]

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