February 15, 2009
We Consistently Map Faces To Personality Types

Do we know what we are doing when we classify people into personality types by looking at their faces?

First impressions are highly influential, despite the well-worn admonition not to judge a book by its cover. Within a tenth of a second of seeing an unfamiliar face we have already made a judgement about its owner's character - caring, trustworthy, aggressive, extrovert, competent and so on (Psychological Science, vol 17, p 592). Once that snap judgement has formed, it is surprisingly hard to budge. What's more, different people come to strikingly similar conclusions about a particular face - as shown in our own experiment (see "The New Scientist face experiment").

People also act on these snap judgements. Politicians with competent-looking faces have a greater chance of being elected, and CEOs who look dominant are more likely to run a profitable company. Baby-faced men and those with compassionate-looking faces tend to be over-represented in the caring professions. Soldiers deemed to look dominant tend to rise faster through the ranks, while their baby-faced comrades tend to be weeded out early. When baby-faced men appear in court they are more likely than their mature-faced peers to be exonerated from a crime. However, they are also more likely to be found guilty of negligence.

While we have clear tendencies to expect different facial appearances to be associated with different kinds of personalities the article reports that scientists are still uncertain as to how accurate our judgments are about faces and personalities.

When offspring genetic engineering becomes possible will people choose to make the faces of their kids look trustworthy and dominant?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 15 11:19 PM  Brain Innate


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