Does a Smile Matter if the Person Is Not Real? The Effect of a Smile and Stock Photos on Persona Perceptions

Joni Salminen, Soon Gyo Jung, João M. Santos, Bernard J. Jansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We analyze the effect of using smiling/non-smiling and stock photo/non-stock photo pictures in persona profiles on four key persona perceptions, including credibility, likability, similarity, and willingness to use. For this, we collect data from an experiment with 2,400 participants using a 16-item survey instrument and multiple persona profile treatments of which half have a smiling photo/stock photo and half do not. The results from structural equation modeling, supplemented by a qualitative analysis, show that a smile enhances the perceived similarity with the persona, similar personas are more liked, and that likability increases the willingness to use a persona. In contrast, the use of stock photos decreases the perceived similarity with the persona as well as persona credibility, both of which are significant predictors to a willingness to use a persona. These professionally crafted stock-photos seem to diminish the sense of identification with the persona. The above effects are consistent across the tested ages, genders, and races of the persona picture, although the effect sizes tend to be small. The results suggest that persona creators should use smiling pictures of real people to evoke positive perceptions toward the personas. In addition to presenting quantitative evidence on the predictors of willingness to use a persona, our research has implications for the design of persona profiles, showing that the picture choice influences individuals’ persona perceptions even when the other persona information is identical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-590
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Human-Computer Interaction
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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