A small study from researchers from two American universities examined Facebook profile pictures to see if cultural differences are visibly reflected in the pictures. It turns out that difference is obvious and, according to the authors, reflects larger cultural patterns of thought.
I wonder if what they found for Facebook users is true for other online communities, particularly gaming communities. Do player-made avatars have differences that reflect culture?
Here we have demonstrated that such systematic cultural variations can also be observed in cyberspace, focusing on self-presentation of photographs on Facebook, the most popular worldwide online social network site. We examined cultural differences in face/frame ratios for Facebook profile photographs in two studies. For Study 1, 200 digital profile face photographs of active Facebook users were randomly selected from native and immigrant Taiwanese and Americans. For Study 2, 312 Facebook profiles of undergraduate students of six public universities in East Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan) and the United States (California and Texas) were randomly selected. Overall, the two studies clearly showed that East Asian Facebook users are more likely to deemphasize their faces compared to Americans. Specifically, East Asians living in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan exhibited a predilection for context inclusiveness in their profile photographs, whereas Americans tended to prioritize their focal face at the expense of the background.
“These are not conscious choices,” Dr. Park wrote in an email to ABC News. “This represents the lens through which the two cultures view the world. This relates, we believe, to a cultural bias to be more individualistic in the U.S. and more communal in Asia. We believe these values fundamentally sculpt one’s thought and choices, including design of a Facebook portrait.”
What does all this mean? Huang and Park write of the U.S. as an “individualistic and independent” culture, while people in Taiwan “deemphasize the face and to engage more contextual field information.” Social media — Facebook, in this case — make a giant lab for showing the differences.