Facebook profile photo experiment goes live

image captionWhat does Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's profile photo say about him?

Nina Jones is a 17-year-old student who is one of the finalists in Radio 4's So you Want to Be a Scientist? She is designing an experiment looking at the psychology behind the photos people chose to represent themselves on their Facebook profile.

Facebook- the homepage of my generation and the arch-nemesis to my revision timetable.

In just six years it has become a global phenomenon, with over 400 million users worldwide. Like many teenagers, I spend unhealthy amounts of time on this website, after switching on my laptop with good intentions.

Instead I am normally found idly clicking from profile to profile, while my homework remains untouched, my textbooks gather dust and my mother despairs.

It was on one such evening, when despite my best efforts, I had inevitably logged in to Facebook, that I started musing about how different people chose to present themselves to the online world, principally through their profile pictures. Gradually these general musings shaped themselves into an idea.

And this is where So You Want To Be A Scientist? slotted into the equation - the 'search for research' started by the Radio 4 programme 'Material World'.

As the deadline for entries was drawing to a close I hastily scribbled down my ideas and a few weeks later I received the news that I was actually going to be carrying out my experiment, much to my excitement. Finally, I had a legitimate excuse to be on Facebook.

First steps

I'm currently in the process of kick-starting my experiment, with the help of my mentor, Dr Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute. But what exactly am I doing? And why should anyone be remotely interested?

My idea is to look into how people present themselves to the online world - by way of their chosen profile pictures and the photos they are tagged in.

I will be gathering data to hopefully find some recurrent trends linking people of the same gender, age and background - to answer the question: how do people represent themselves in their Facebook profile picture?

What sort of impression are we giving? For teenagers, is it about having hundreds of pictures of nights out partying with friends? For adults, is it about showing old classmates what you have achieved - with photos of your wedding or children? And for how many people are the profile pictures irrelevant?

Just looking at all those question marks gives an idea of how vast this topic of research is. But I'm hoping, through my investigation, to answer at least a few of them.

Calling out

I am by no means the first person to look into this field. Although the phenomenon of the social networking site is a fairly recent one, there have been studies by sociologists on subjects similar to this.

But with the guiding hand of Dr Hogan, I shall hopefully be able to come to some unique and original conclusions.

But to do this, I need some help. I'm aiming for a nice varied sample of the population, which is why I would love everyone to get involved.

To start, you can visit my Facebook page and click 'like'. Then, as I progress with the experiment, I'll update the page regularly so that you can see how I'm getting on.

From the people who join the page I'll be selecting a 'stratified sample' (that's my statistics GCSE maths coming in there) to analyse for my experiment. So I'll be looking for a good range of ages, genders and countries if I can get them.

And of course, we'll be following strict rules on privacy. As my mentor says: "We are going to ask for informed consent and then go through the normal social science procedures for collecting this data from subjects."

If I'd like to study your profile, I'll send you a friend request with full details of what we're doing, and you can 'accept' and opt in, or press 'ignore' and I won't be offended.

So, for your chance to get involved with the experiment, or if you have any ideas or suggestions, please don't hesitate to get in touch through the Facebook page. You'll also be helping to make sure I haven't reverted to my old, unproductive ways on Facebook.

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