November 01, 2009
Facial Proportions Show Aggressiveness

You've heard that we shouldn't judge people by their appearances and that appearances are only skin deep. Well no. People can predict the aggressiveness of other people after viewing their facial pictures for less than a second.

Angry words and gestures are not the only way to get a sense of how temperamental a person is. According to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, a quick glance at someone's facial structure may be enough for us to predict their tendency towards aggression.

Facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) is determined by measuring the distance between the right and left cheeks and the distance from the upper lip to the mid-brow. During childhood, boys and girls have similar facial structures, but during puberty, males develop a greater WHR than females. Previous research has suggested that males with a larger WHR act more aggressively than those with a smaller WHR. For example, studies have shown that hockey players with greater WHR earn more penalty minutes per game than players with lower WHR.

Psychologists Justin M. Carré, Cheryl M. McCormick, and Catherine J. Mondloch of Brock University conducted an experiment to see if it is possible to predict another person's propensity for aggressive behavior simply by looking at their photograph. Volunteers viewed photographs of faces of men for whom aggressive behavior was previously assessed in the lab. The volunteers rated how aggressive they thought each person was on a scale of one to seven after viewing each face for either 2000 milliseconds or 39 milliseconds.

We have the innate ability to read faces and know things about a person's personality.

The photographs were very revealing: Volunteers' estimates of aggression correlated highly with the actual aggressive behavior of the faces viewed, even if they saw the picture for only 39 milliseconds. Even more interestingly, the volunteers' estimates were also highly correlated with WHR of the faces—the greater the WHR, the higher the aggressive rating, suggesting that we may use this aspect of facial structure to judge potential aggression in others. These findings indicate that subtle differences in face shape may affect personality judgments, which may, in turn, guide how we respond to certain individuals.

Some day these results will lead to an important offspring genetic engineering question: Genetically engineer your kid to look more aggressive than he is in order to intimidate would-be challengers? Or genetically engineer him (or her) to look meek while being ready, willing, and able to aggressively pursue goals?

You don't want to engineer your kid to be physically aggressive but weak or poorly coordinated. Though it'll probably be possible to genetically engineer more for an aggressiveness useful for success in business and less for aggressiveness that leads to time in prison for assault and murder.

Update: Most personality traits are readable from facial expressions. We really are open books.

AUSTIN, Texas—First impressions do matter when it comes to communicating personality through appearance, according to new research by psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling of The University of Texas at Austin.

Despite the crucial role of physical appearance in creating first impressions, until now little research has examined the accuracy of personality impressions based on appearance alone. These findings will be published in the December 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, co-written with Simine Vazire (Washington University in St. Louis) and Peter J. Rentfrow (University of Cambridge).

"In an age dominated by social media where personal photographs are ubiquitous, it becomes important to understand the ways personality is communicated via our appearance," says Naumann. "The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life."

In the study, observers viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose. The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.

Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions. When observers saw naturally expressive behavior (such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits. The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.

Does the personality shape the face? Or do genetic factors shape them both?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 01 04:23 PM  Brain Innate


Comments
Chunk said at November 10, 2009 9:49 AM:

Likely some sort of feedback loop. If people are so "good" at judging faces, maybe it effects how they treat them without ever knowing them. These external factors have an influence on personality too.

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