Technology may be evolving, but the way humans interact is not.
According to senior Kathy Groat’s psychology research on Facebook profile pictures, young men and young women, in particular, continue to present themselves in accordance with evolutionary theory.
“Evolutionarily speaking, when you go back to hunter-and-gatherer ideas, males are the ones who supposedly provide and fight for the women,” Groat said. “Females are the ones who are mothering, nurturing. Females are the ones who really create a community, so they’re more likely to desire the relationships. Men are more likely to be displaying their status and their achievements.”
Groat’s study showed a strong prevalence for this theory.
“Women care more about relationships than men do; they focus more on friendship through their profile pictures,” Groat said. “Men desire comments from the opposite sex more often than females do on their profile pictures. Men are seeking status. The more comments they get from females, the more popular they look, the more likely they are to maybe get a mate.”
Aside from differences in gender, differences in relationship status and in age all contributed to varying motives behind posting profile pictures.
In accordance with Groat’s hypotheses, those in committed relationships are more likely to post photos of themselves with their significant other, showing pride in that relationship. Furthermore, they are also more likely to post photos of themselves with their families.
“If you’re in a committed relationship, you’re going to focus more on relationships in general,” Groat said.
Those who are single, though, “focus more on posting pictures with friends,” Groat said. She added, “if you’re single, you’re expressing your individuality more.”
As Groat had predicted, the greatest differences were in overall usage of Facebook by different age groups; the older the participant, the less likely they were to be as active online. Furthermore, older participants appear to use Facebook in a manner much unlike that of younger participants.
“[Older participants] felt less confident about their appearance, which could have many factors behind it. You just might not be comfortable sharing your photo,” Groat said. Elaborating, she explained that older participants were more likely to use profile pictures that featured themselves with their families.
Groat has found these results so interesting that, at times, she wishes she could continue the study.
“I would like some sort of method to compare what people report their use of Facebook photos to be versus what other people see when they post Facebook photos,” Groat said.
Groat’s initial interest in performing this study on Facebook profile pictures was maintained throughout her research.
“These days, it’s as though people no longer communicate face-to-face; there’s so much activity that goes on online,” Groat said. “I wanted to explore what people were doing on Facebook, and somehow I got interested in profile photos. I found photos to be a silent form of communication to others, to either express yourself or present yourself to others. It’s a form of impression management.”
After spending this past summer thinking about these interests, Groat began building a background of knowledge by researching other articles and studies. She then began conducting her own research during fall term, in which she created a survey that ultimately reached 852 participants. The next step was performing a series of statistical analyses that led to a production of results. After finalizing her conclusions, Groat collected all of her findings in a paper that has the potential of being published.
The researching aspect of psychology has been quite the experience for Groat.
“I definitely have learned a lot about research in general,” Groat said. “It’s been really helpful to just see that I can do it, that it’s not quite as intimidating as I thought it would be.”
This knowledge will ultimately help contribute not just to Groat’s major, but to her career in the future.
“As a psychologist, it’s really important to know what research is about,” Groat said. “I feel much more confident in my abilities to learn more and be able to create a product that I put a lot of time and effort into and feel satisfied with.”