“I realized that probably it’s not just because,” she said. “There’s probably something that’s beneficial from taking the photo from that angle.” By changing the angle at which they were photographed, Makhanova found that individuals were changing their relative position to those observing them online.
“That really struck a parallel to a lot of animals’ competition over resources,” she said. If you flip on Planet Earth, she explained, you’ll often see a pair of wild animals size each other up, adjusting their relative positions—some making an effort to look larger, like a bird fluffing its feathers, or others crouching low. Humans in her study exhibited similar patterns of behavior.
In the first study, Makhanova and her team scoured the camera angles of men’s and women’s profile pictures across an undisclosed online dating site. (All subjects of the study were heterosexual because of what she said is lacking available research on non-heterosexual norms of attractiveness.) Women were found to photograph themselves from above, at a downward angle, with greater frequency than any other angle.
Men showed no pattern on the dating site; they did, however, when the team looked at LinkedIn. Across the professional networking site, while women still preferred shots from above, men overwhelmingly posted photographs taken at an upward angle. The audience and context here is important, Makhanova found: An upward angle, which accentuates the jawline and subject’s overall size, commands dominance to male competition. She said this mirrors the evolutionary behaviors of male animals who try to appear larger, older, or flaunt their dominance and status when confronting other males.