If you've ever awkwardly posed for a photo unsure of which side is your best side, you can now rest easy: Scientists are here to save the day. According to several studies, putting your left cheek forward will guarantee you look more appealing in your photos. That's even the case in selfies, an Australian researcher reported in a study published earlier this year in Frontiers in Psychology.
Annukka Lindell, a senior lecturer in experimental neuropsychology at La Trobe University in Melbourne, took it upon herself to "expand the selfie posing bias data" by going to Instagram and searching the hashtag #selfie. She identified 100 male and 100 female users and analyzed their 10 most recent selfies, bringing the total number of selfies in this study to 2000.
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The photos were coded by several factors, including pose orientation, which was defined by which cheek the subject offered to the camera or mirror. Overall, Lindell found there were more left (779) selfies than right (686) or midline (535). Moreover, a vast majority of the subjects showed a bias toward a particular pose orientation.
"Ninety-two percent of the sample showed an overall posing bias, with 41 percent favoring their left cheek, 31.5 percent preferring their right cheek, and 19.5 percent repeatedly posting midline selfies," the study states. "Given that only 8 percent of selfie- takers showed no overall bias, the tendency to repeatedly adopt a preferred pose appears to be the norm for selfie takers."
The findings confirm the existence of what's been dubbed the left-cheek bias. Citing previous research, Lindell writes, "Because the left side of the face is predominantly controlled by the emotion-dominant right hemisphere, the left cheek is more emotionally expressive. Consequently, people intuitively offer the left cheek when asked to pose for a photo expressing emotion, and the right cheek when posing for a photo that conceals emotion."
It's not the first time Lindell has explored the left-cheek bias. In a small-scale study she worked on last year, a majority of the participants found that the subjects in photos presenting their left side appeared happier—even in photos that were sliced up and rearranged to form a "scrambled stimuli."
The results of these two studies echo that of research published in 2012 by two North Carolina researchers. James Schirillo, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University, and his co-author Kelsey Blackburn asked 37 male and female college students to rate photos of 10 male and 10 female faces. Participants preferred the left-sided portraits, regardless of whether the image was original or mirror-reversed. "This suggests that the perceived emotional expressions are being rated on their facial musculature," the authors write, "and thus hemispheric specificity rather than the viewer's preference for a given perceived hemiface."
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Schirillo offered this takeaway: "Practically, people should turn slightly so that they show more of their left than right cheek when being photographed. Others will find these images more appealing than the reverse (more right cheek exposed)."
The left cheek bias has historical links, Lindell said in a statement. "Previous research shows subjects of famous photographic and painted portraits, such as the da Vinci's Mona Lisa, are more likely to face the artist showing their left side. It's interesting that today, with the immediacy and possibilities that photographic technology allows us, that we are still naturally drawn to our left side."
"The act of taking a selfie is very deliberate," she continued. "On average, young women discard six selfies for each one they upload, so there must be something very special about the left cheek."