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Gender and Age Difference in Profile Pictures Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3275 words Published: 18th Sep 2017

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Michael Ngo


Does Gender affect the number of profile pictures posted on Facebook? Does age affect a number of subjects in a profile picture? This study seeks to find the potential motivation and personality traits associated with an online behavioral action. The hypotheses focus on age and gender, two factors that could explain some differences or similarities in behavior. A non-experimental content analysis was used as the design with a sample size of 50 participants (25 female and 25 males). The age group was divided into two constructs: young (11-20 years old) and old (21-30 years old). The statistical test found no significance in gender affecting the number of profile pictures and age affecting the subjects in profile pictures. Further investigation and limitations will be discussed later.

Gender and Age Difference in Profile Pictures Content Analysis

Media, a term encompassing broadcasting medium such as newspaper, TV, radio, and internet use, is constantly being scrutinized for its content and its effect on users’ cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors. From the recent shootings of unarmed individuals to Trump’s attempt at changing the health policies to local school charity successes, each media source provides an outlet for students to react and change their perspectives. Moreover, media use by students could potentially provide researchers important data on their social, emotional, and cognitive states. Social networking has grown and is continuing growing throughout the past decade. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr are some of the most popular social networking sites currently (Pempek, Yermolayeva, & Calvert, 2009). Students use social networks to express themselves through the use of pictures, status updates, posts, and chats. These online expressions could also affect the original posters’ viewers and the users’ themselves similar to the larger scale news outlet.

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Facebook, one of the most widely used network, can provide a great source of information, especially about school-aged students. Through Facebook, users can share their thoughts through posts and comments, share links and other media to groups, and upload pictures of themselves or their friends. The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential motivations, psychological factors, and personality traits behind Facebook users’ profile pictures. It is important to note that to measure a person’s motivation and personality, a researcher must compile a series of test, surveys, and physical interactions among other factors. The point of this research is to examine photo related factors and literature reviews to derive potential reasons for the users’ action.

This current study presents the results of a content analysis addressing the following research question: do gender and age affect the number of profile pictures and the number of subjects in a profile picture? In the study, there are two hypotheses: Female users will have a higher number of profile pictures than male users in their albums and younger people (age 11-20) will have higher numbers of subjects in their profile pictures than older people (ages 21-30).

Literature Review

Over the past six years, there has been an increase in the number of peer-reviewed articles on social networking sites. Many of these studies explore how psychological factors such as personality traits influence the use of social networking sites. Personality traits include neuroticism, extraversion, low self-esteem, and narcissism when using Facebook (Skues, Williams, & Wise, 2012).

Some studies claim that participants who were members of more groups on Facebook had reported higher levels of extraversion than those with lower levels of extraversion (Skues et al., 2012). Extraverted people use Facebook to maintain relationships with their peers and engage in social activities offline and online. This would explain the smaller social group membership among introverts and the larger group membership for extraverts. Extraversion could explain why some people upload more profile pictures than others. With a larger friend group, an individual is more inclined to update their photos so that their friends can see what is happening in the user’s life. Students use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and to let others know more about themselves (Pempek et al., 2011). Users may upload pictures of themselves with multiple subjects to showcase their network and friendship. Subjects may include one’s group of friends with studies showing that both the quantity and nature of photos displayed perception of closeness by viewers (Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2010). The motivation behind why users would do this could be to seek peer feedback and validation from friends. An introverted individual may not find the necessity to frequently update their profile pictures for their friends.

Neuroticism is another trait that has been found to affect how individuals use Facebook. Though there are conflicting findings. For example, a study has found that individuals with “higher neuroticism levels were less willing to share any personal information, but preferred posting on the wall compared to uploading photos” (Skues et al., 2012). Another study found that high neurotic individuals were more likely to not show their face in pictures than low neurotic individuals (Liu, Moghaddam, Preotiuc-Pietro, Samani, & Ungar, 2016). Both individuals with varying neuroticism levels were inclined to share personal information when compared to a middle cohort. With contrasting data, it is difficult to use neuroticism as a factor for explaining the differences in profile pictures by gender (Liu et al., 2016).

Self-esteem may be another trait that would serve to explain some individuals’ motivation for their profile pictures. However, there are mixed finding relating to the relationship between self-esteem and using Facebook. A study suggests that users with low self-esteem spent more time on Facebook and that Facebook may provide a medium to compensate for their low self-esteem (Thompson & Lougheed, 2012). Other studies show that Facebook has a positive impact on self-esteem as users are allowed to post what they want the public to see. Oftentimes, users would post positive characteristics and edited photos of themselves to boost their self-esteem. Lastly, other studies found that there is no important association between Facebook and self-esteem (Skues et al., 2012).

In Facebook, where disclosing information about oneself and interacting with others is the purpose, researchers found it necessary to examine narcissism and how it can play a role in a user’s profile. One study has shown that higher levels of narcissism predicted more user information and photos posted and more social interaction (Skues et al., 2012). Narcissistic individuals are more likely to check Facebook more frequently and spend more time on the site (Thompson & Lougheed, 2012). There is a potential correlation between individuals with high narcissism and the number of profile pictures. The higher the number of profile pictures may relate to the individual’s affection towards themselves.

However, even with the increase in studies, there are still missing gaps in the literature relating to the personality and motivation analysis from profile pictures especially in the different age and gender groups. The studies mentioned above examines the effect of one or two psychological variables on Facebook use and not the concurrent effects of various variables. There is only a few select study that addresses this gap. One study claims from surveys taken by their participants that Facebook users are more extroverted and have higher levels of narcissism compared to non-Facebook users. However, a close review of this study shows that the correlation is weak and needs more research examining the psychological factors simultaneously.

Since investigating the motivation and potential personality traits for gender and age differences in profile picture is a fairly new area of research, this paper serves to add to the ongoing studies and provide further analysis. This study will address the magnitude and existence of behavioral gender and age differences. Facebook was chosen as the main social networking site because Facebook users are diverse, culturally and socially, and their behavior is more natural than other traditional samples. (Tifferet & Vilnai-Yavetz, 2014). Two hypotheses were studied through profile pictures analysis for different gender and age groups.

H1 – Female users will have a higher number of profile pictures than male users in their albums.

H2 – Younger people (aged 11-20) will have a higher number of subjects in their profile pictures than older people (aged 21-30).


Research Design and Procedures

A non-experimental analysis was chosen for this study. The profile picture data was collected from my list of an active Facebook friend by utilizing a random number generator online. Each random number represented a friend on my list. For example, the number four would correspond to the 4th friend on my friend’s list. A sample of 50 friends was used with 25 from females and 25 from males. The criteria for the subjects to participate in this study is to be within the age of 11-30. If a prospective participant was chosen and did not fit the age group, I would proceed to the next available person.


Whether age and gender affected Facebook users’ profile pictures was the focus of this study. Gender differences (male or female) and the number of profile pictures were the predictor variable and criterion variable, respectively, of the first hypothesis. Age differences and number of subjects in profile pictures are the main focus of the second hypothesis. Two age groups were defined, young with people ages 11-20 and older with people ages 21-30, for the predictor variable. The criterion variable, number of subjects in the profile picture, is divided into four constructs: single (themselves), couple (subject and one person), group (3 or more), and others (no people) (Hum, Chamberlin, Hambright, Portwood, Schat, & Bevan, 2011).

Statistical Analysis

I listed the scale of measurement for Gender as nominal (female or male) and Number of Profile Pictures as a ratio. Because this is a group difference question, I chose to conduct an independent t-test for Hypothesis H1. For Hypothesis H2, I listed Age (young and older) and Number of Subjects (4 categories) as nominal and chose to conduct a chi-square test.


There was no significant difference between Gender and Profile Pictures (H1) and Age and Subjects in Profile Pictures (H2). Using Levene’s test, there were no similar variance between gender and profile pictures (construct, F(xx)=xx, p= 0.295). The variability in the conditions is not significantly different.

Hypothesis H1 was not statistically significant. The independent t test disproved the hypothesis and the results can be viewed in Table 1. The t-test shows that the male (M= 46.40, SD= 49.79) and female (M=39.28, SD= 36.45) did not influence the number of profile pictures a Facebook user would have, t (0.577), p> 0.05. Females do not have a higher number of profile pictures than males in this case. Thus, Hypothesis H1 was not supported. Hypothesis H2 was not statistically significant, and the results are shown in Table 2. The statistics X 2 (5)>= 2.285 and p= 0.808 (P>0.05) indicates that there was no association found between age groups and subjects in profile pictures. Hypothesis H2 was not supported.


The research behind the use of social networking sites is still growing especially with teenagers and college student’s population. Previous studies show that personality traits can be inferred from the use of Facebook and profile pictures (Skues et al., 2012). However, there is little research on gender and age differences and potential effects on Facebook functions like profile pictures. The purpose of this study is to explore if gender affects the number of profile pictures and if age determines the likelihood of a number of subjects in a profile picture to support potential data on personality traits and motivations.

Two hypotheses were presented and statistically tested. Profiles based on gender and age were chosen and profile pictures were analyzed. Statistical results showed no significance for both gender and number of profile pictures and age and subjects in profile pictures. This meant that both gender and age group have more similarities than differences. This could be due to a separate set of social norms for online users compared to offline users. In real life, gender roles and expected behavior has been established; however, in the virtual world, there are nuances and a completely different subculture that has not been studied yet. These subcultures may disregard gender and may focus more on social structures and practices that shape behavior (Hum et al., 2011). This data may suggest that men and women have the same motivation or similar traits that dictate their actions. Further study would be required to collect more data and complete a thorough analysis, though this is a good start.


The lack of significance can be due to limitations of the study. The sample size of the study was only 50 profiles. If there were more samples, then the data may have changed to show a significance result. In addition, because of Facebook and IRB regulations, I would need to get informed consent from participants (Hum et al., 2011). The way to avoid obtaining consent would be to use my own Friend list, making this sample population not random or representative of the Facebook population. A solution would be to conduct the study with the consent of random Facebook users.

Further Research

This study is an observational non-experimental design. The data and results could be used to explain with some potential theories about personality traits and motivation, but it does not show correlation or relationship. In order to a relationship or correlation to be determined, an experimental design is required. This study does provide a foundation for future research. A quasi-experimental design is recommended. The dependent variable would be how frequent Facebook users update their profile picture and statuses and the independent variables would be personality trait test results on Narcissism and Self-Esteem. The purpose of this study would be to determine a more direct approach between the personality trait and Facebook usage. This would explain how psychological factors can influence people to act a certain way and add on to online social and behavioral data. The sample size would be larger (n=200) and more diverse (from different regions of the world). This would provide a more representative sample of the Facebook community. The independent personality trait tests would have different operational definitions each and the dependent variable would also have different constructs. The age of Facebook users may be confined to a range (18-30) to study a specific population’s behavior.


Hum, N. J., Chamberlin, P. E., Hambright, B. L., Portwood, A. C., Schat, A. C., & Bevan, J. L. (2011). A picture is worth a thousand words: A content analysis of Facebook profile photographs. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1828-1833. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.04.003

Tifferet, S., & Vilnai-Yavetz, I. (2014). Gender differences in Facebook self-presentation: An international randomized study. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 388-399. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.016

Mendelson, A. L. and Papacharissi, Z. A. , 2010-06-22 “Look at Us: Collective Narcissism in College Student Facebook Photo Galleries” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Suntec City, Singapore Online . 2014-11-27 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p404764_index.html

Skues, J. L., Williams, B., & Wise, L. (2012). The effects of personality traits, self-esteem, loneliness, and narcissism on Facebook use among university students. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2414-2419. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.012

Pempek, T. A., Yermolayeva, Y. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2009). College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology,30(3), 227-238. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.12.010

Liu, L., Moghaddam, M.E., Preotiuc-Pietro, D., Samani, Z.R., & Ungar, L.H. (2016). Analyzing Personality through Social Media Profile Picture Choice. ICWSM.

Thompson, S. H., & Lougheed, E. (2012). Frazzled by Facebook? An Exploratory Study of Gender Differences in Social Network Communication among Undergraduate Men and Women [Abstract]. College Student Journal, 46(1), 88-98. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from http://web3.apiu.edu/researchfile/Research%20Materials/Communication/Frazzled%20by%20facebook-an%20exploratory%20study%20of%20gender%20differences%20in%20social%20network%20communication%20undergraduate%20men%20and%20women.pdf

Appendix A

Table 1

Difference Profile Pictures between Females and Males






Profile Pictures







Note.  P> 0.05.*=p≤ .05, **= p≤ .01,***=p≤ .001.  Standard Deviations appear in parentheses below means.

Appendix B

Table 2

Crosstabulation of Facebook Users’ Age and Number of Subjects in Profile Pictures


Subjects in Profile Pictures



















Note. P> .05. 


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