Did You Know: Studies Show People Believe They Look Like the Retouched Version of Themselves


Remember the “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” advertisement? It was the ad that brought in various women, and then had those women and a stranger they had just met describe them to a forensic artists. This, in the end, showed the original participants that they were far more beautiful than they saw themselves.

It was an admirable advertisement that went viral, but according to a series of studies performed last year by psychological researchers Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia, the Dove campaign might just have it backwards. In other words: they found that we actually think we’re MORE attractive than we really are.

Believed to be caused in part by the idea that we view ourselves in a more forgiving light, the study claims that we see a “retouched” version staring out at us from the mirror; something akin to how we may look after a little tweaking in Photoshop.

It was a three-fold study which, at its most basic level, sought to determine how individuals viewed their own image, as well as how they viewed others. In the end, according to Scientific American, the researchers’ hypothesis was proven, with participants overestimating how attractive they were and judging others as less attractive.

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The findings seen to agree with what’s called “self-enhancement,” a common psychological phenomenon wherein we tend to be more optimistic about our various traits (physical or otherwise) in an effort to maintain more positive self-esteem.

So, whether it’s a selfie taken with friends, a senior picture you have in a photo album, or an image of someone else you see on Facebook, what you see in those pictures might actually have a bit of ‘in-brain’ Photoshop already applied.

To dive deeper into the research and find out more about these studies, head on over to Scientific American and give the full article a read.

(via Scientific America)

Image credits: Kylie by Mitch

  • E-Nonymouse A

    Thats funny, i’m positive most of see or hear idealized versions of our own image or voice but it’s shattered the minute we see it played back. For this reason I dislike hearing myself on a recording because I know it’s going to suck..
    Thanks for putting a psych spin on the photography side of things. :)

  • Banan Tarr

    Without a doubt. I recently recorded a video of myself for a Kickstarter campaign and it’s just really painful to watch. I never knew I was THAT bad.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    When you hear yourself talk internally, the audio is going through your tissues.
    That’s why it really is different from what you hear from an external recording.

  • OtterMatt

    It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and it touches all aspects of our experience, not only physical makeup. The less familiar and knowledgeable we are about a field of study or knowledge, the more we overestimate our own competence, expertise, or value. If you did this same study with a group of professional photo retouchers, makeup artists, and fashion personalities, I bet you’d find that they fairly consistently underestimated themselves.

  • OtterMatt

    A little bit of EQ and some reverb go a LONG way to fixing that. The human voice naturally sounds weird when the signal is completely dry, we’re just used to it with ourselves.

  • David Vaughn

    The more you know about a subject, the more you know about how much you don’t know. lol

  • Stephen S.

    For photographers who eschew editing software, this is persuasive evidence why portrait photographers should learn Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. Because your clients quite literally *expect* it.

  • Renato Murakami

    There are just too many factors at play here to use definitives… either from Dove natural beauty ad campaign, or even Scientific American presented studies and the study itself.
    You can’t leave context outside of it to make bold affirmations, also leaving out sample size, method and other important factors.

    First of all, the Dove commercial has several different things from the study presented. It’s sketches versus photography, you are faced with an artist, there’s the descriptive process that draws from self criticism and image perception – not image presentation, among several other factors.

    The study, at least from the Scientific American article, presented two photoshopped images (one for beauty and one making it look uglier) and made the subject choose one as the “untreated” one – only there wasn’t an untreated one. If that’s the method, it’s a very far stretch saying we tend to see ourselves better. It could just mean that we don’t see ourselves as an uglier version of ourselves, presented by the supposed computadorized version which we don’t know what exactly achieved. What’s a computadorized understanding of uglier and beauty anyways?

    In it also comes the skill of whoever did the software for the image treatments… perhaps the ugly photoshop just looked more unrealistic.
    They then showed treated and non-treated versions of photos to strangers, which were mostly able to choose the non treated versions. Perhaps the treatment was crap in the first place?

    This is basically what I call a very bad application of “science”, “scientific study”, and the comparison doesn’t apply.

    In both cases you have two different artistic visions and works interfering with results which could plain invalidate the study. You also have interference with the sorts of environments, people and wording/addressing that were used for it.

    When asked about image, beauty and other abstract concepts, a person can change their presented standpoints because of very subtle changes, going either for self-criticism or choosing to describe the highlights of a stranger.
    On the other hand, when presented with actual photos, it just might be easier to spot editing for “uglyfying” than light retouches to make the photo look better. And if you are not presented with the original photo in the first place, this might cause yet another different reaction – “well, I see none of those are really me, so I choose the one that looks better because that’s what I want for myself”.

  • zdroberts

    I wonder how photographers in general would view themselves in portraits? I notice the tell tale signs of ‘photoshopping’ more and I find, in general, don’t like being on the other side of the camera.