Churches O., Callahan R, Michalski D, Brewer N, Turner E, et al. (2012) How Academics Face the World: A Study of 5829 Homepage Pictures. PLoS ONE 7(7): e38940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038940.
Owen Churches and his fellow researchers set out to discover how “professional academics in the arts and sciences choose to display themselves to the world via their most visible public picture: their personal homepage portrait housed on their University’s website” (1-2). Darwin was the first to show that the left side of the face is more expressive through increased muscle movement than the right side. When applying this biological difference to the visual, Lindell and Savill (2010) showed that people interpret pictures of faces depending on which side of the face is turned towards the camera. People with the right side facing the camera are seen as scientific, and those with the left side most visible are judged to be humanities-oriented (1).
Churches et al tested these theories by coding 5,829 profile pictures taken from professors’ academic profile pages on their universities’ websites. They found a distinct difference in facial-orientation between chemists and mathematics professors versus English professors, even when their findings were adjusted for the variable of gender (2). Therefore, their overall findings corroborated their initial theory.
However, they had two interesting and unexpected findings. First, academic psychologists had no clear preference of side of the face, which Churches et al theorize might be because psychology is being seen increasingly as a science versus an art (3). Newer psychologists might therefore be showing the right side (the “scientific” side), while older psychologists the left (the “expressive” side). This finding hints at people being in control of the rhetoric of their facial angles, but there is still the possibility that it is an unconscious decision. The second unexpected finding shows more clearly how people might be controlling the rhetorical message of their profile pictures. Churches et al found no common facial angle in fine and performing arts professors’ pictures. They theorize that this might be because artists, having studied portraiture and/or physical presentation of the self as other, are more aware of the rhetorical possibilities of face angle and therefore control their own profile pictures in this way (3).
These findings of this research will assist me in analyzing the profile pictures of my students. I will look for facial angle preferences and whether these are different between social (therefore more “expressive”) and academic (therefore more “scientific”) profile pictures. In their findings, Churches et al have raised an interesting question for the field of visual rhetoric, are the rhetorical possibilities of facial angle being knowingly maximized?, that I hope to explore.
Can you guess which picture I use for professional profiles?