Media, Technology, and Education
FaceBookMaking Meaning

FaceBook Profile Pictures

The BBC is sponsoring a very cool project to get people excited about science.  It’s called So You Want To Be a Scientist.  Over 1300 people submitted ideas for scientific questions to be answered and a panel of experts reviewed the submissions, looking for the most interesting, promising ideas.  The selected finalists, with the help of a professional scientist in a related field, will now design an experiment to address their question and will then perform the experiment, collect data, and prepare the results for presentation at the British Science Festival in September.  Judges will then choose a winner.

There are four finalists.  The experiment that I found most interesting was submitted by Nina Jones, a 17-year-old high school student from England.  She hypothesizes that adults and teens use their Facebook profile pictures differently.  Adults seem to use a photo of a significant event from their lives as their profile picture while teens tend to use a photo that shows them having a good time with their friends.  Nina will examine profile photos to determine whether this hypothesis is true and if it is, why it occurs.  She’s looking for volunteers to allow their profile pictures to be examined–she needs permission because profile pictures are one of the last items on Facebook that are private by default.  Once she has a bunch of volunteers, she will use statistical sampling techniques to choose the pictures she will examine.  If you want to volunteer, go to the Facebook fan page for her experiment and “like” it.  She will choose from among the people who like the page.  Here’s a link:!/BBC.picture.experiment?v=info

I think it’s an interesting experiment but I’m not sure her hypotheses will hold up.  My anecdotal experience with my friends (who mostly fall into the “adult” category) doesn’t seem to indicate that they overwhelmingly use pictures from their significant life events.  What do you think?

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.


  1. beth

    I think adults likely choose pictures that they judge represent them in the best light possible. perhaps there is a difference in adult vs juvenile judgment about ‘best light’. kids may be more likely to think that they look best when surrounded by smooching friends and adults when their pot belly doesn’t make an appearance in the shot…

  2. KK

    I think maybe the s.o. of “adults” feel more comfortable with their partners being on facebook if their partner’s photo is from their wedding or baby thingie. (sorry for that tangly sentence). Aren’t most fb adults getting in touch with old flames etc.? Didn’t I hear on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me an alarming number of divorces that cite fb as one among many reasons for the divorce? So, that’s my hypothesis on the wedding/baby-holding pictures on many adult’s profile pic. I wonder if that’s different for academics? Afterall, I was on fb when it was “college-only”, so I never thought of it as a tool to primarily get in touch with old friends.

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