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To collect my data I downloaded profile pictures from my top 50 Facebook friends. The friends represented include those from my hometown as well as those from Carnegie Mellon. Both male and female friends are included, and the ages of the individuals range from approximately 16-26.

Looking at the pictures, I noticed that the number of people (including cartoon drawings of the person) in each image ranged from 0 (one of my top 50 Facebook friends has no profile picture) to many. I decided to count how many people/cartoons were in each profile picture. I chose to only count people who would be considered main subjects in the picture.

Once I had documented how many people were present in each image, I looked at the average number of people per photo for different groupings of my friends. I’ve included my results in the following table:

Average for:







People from home (Northern Virginia)


People from elsewhere


People in posed shots


People in candid shots


People inside in their picture


People outside in their picture


Splitting the data into groups did not reveal any major patterns, except that profile pictures that are taken inside tend to include more people than pictures taken outside. (For this grouping some pictures were omitted because their location was not clear.)

Thirty-four out of fifty (68%) of my top 50 Facebook friends have one (or zero) figures in their photo. For everyone but the friend without a profile picture, the image included the user or a cartoon likeness of the user.

The profile picture is designed to represent a single person and the majority of my friends are using their profile pictures as such. However, could the people who choose to use a group photo be trying to communicate how social they are? Do they lose the chance to emphasize themselves in doing so, or are they able to say more about themselves by presenting themselves with their friends?

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