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Your Facebook Profile Picture: A Window Into Your Relationship

The information people choose to share on Facebook can provide insight into their personalities and social lives. We can make fairly accurate judgments about individuals’ personalities from their Facebook profiles alone.1 In one study where people rated a stranger’s Facebook profile, judgments of certain personality traits, such as extroversion (e.g., sociability, outgoing nature) and openness to experience (e.g., curiosity, preference for variety) were consistent with the stranger’s ratings of himself or herself as well as how the stranger’s close friends rated him or her.1 So it seems that Facebook can help us learn about someone. But what do people’s Facebook profiles tell us about their romantic relationships?  

New research suggests that people’s profile pictures and status updates reflect how satisfied they are in their relationships and how close they feel to their partners.2 Across three studies, including both married and dating samples, my colleagues and I found that people who reported higher relationship satisfaction and closeness to their partners were more likely to display dyadic (read: couple-y) profile pictures and to have partners that posted dyadic profile pictures as well. This was true both at the time of the study and one year later. Also, on days when people post status updates about their partners or relationships, they also report feeling more satisfied in their relationships (relative to days on which they don’t post about their relationships or partners). Importantly, we also looked at general life satisfaction, gender, and personality traits but none of those variables could explain these findings. So it’s not the case, for example, that people posted “couple-y” Facebook updates because they were more outgoing or generally happier in life.2

In short, both individuals’ personalities and their feelings about their relationships spill onto their Facebook profiles. The tendency for individuals' relationship satisfaction to be reflected in their profile pictures is similar to research findings that romantic couples who are happier in their relationships are more likely to use pronouns such as “we” and “us.”3 Posting a Facebook profile picture with a partner seems to be a modern day expression of “we”ness for happy couples.

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1Back, M. D., Stopfer, J. M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S. C., Egloff, B., & Gosling, S. D. (2010). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization. Psychological Science, 21, 372-374.

2Saslow. L. R., Muise, A., Impett, E. A.& Dubin, M. (2012). Can you see how happy we are? Facebook images and relationship satisfaction. Social Psychological and Personality Sciences, online first.

3Seider, B. H., Hirschberger, G., Nelson, K. L., & Levenson, R. W. (2009). We can work it out: Age differences in relational pronouns, physiology, and behavior in marital conflict. Psychology and Aging, 24, 604–613.

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

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