Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Appearances matter: this is how people judge you based on your face

face-psychology.jpg

We all know that we shouldn’t judge people by their appearance – but we do. “In every ancient culture, one can find beliefs that the face is the window to a person’s true nature,” says Alexander Todorov, a psychology professor at Princeton University.

Even as relatively recently as the 19th century, many people believed in physiognomy: the ‘art’ of judging someone’s personality by their facial characteristics. From the 20th century onwards, most people came to understand that our characters aren’t determined by the way we look – but we still make countless assumptions about people based on their appearance.

These impressions are often influenced by our own unwitting biases. It’s been found that most people react more positively to faces that resemble their own, and view more ‘typical’ faces as more trustworthy. So even if you consider yourself a distinctly non-judgemental person, sorry – you definitely are.

Physiognomy

An extract from Giambattista della Porta's Book of Physiognomy (1616).

“We form these immediate impressions of people – we just can’t help it,” Todorov tells Business Insider.

In his research, Todorov uses computer-generated faces to discover what personality traits people associate with particular physical attributes, from trustworthiness to competence, intelligence to naivety.


Read more: The psychology of scribbles: what does your handwriting say about you?


These assumptions, he warns, are highly inaccurate – but knowing what they are can help us to resist them.

Here, we’ve picked out some of the most interesting findings from Todorov’s research and others.


Better-looking people are seen as better people, period

amber heard

According to the ‘Golden Ratio’ – a number created by the Ancient Greeks to quantify beauty, by measuring the correlation between certain facial features – Amber Heard has one of the most beautiful faces in the world.

From a young age, most of us are taught that beauty is only skin-deep; that a good face doesn’t necessarily equate to a good heart. However, according to one study, most people assume that attractive individuals will also rank highly for other positive traits. In particular, very good-looking people are generally viewed as being more competent, intelligent and sociable than your average Joe. 


Older people are viewed as being more intelligent and determined

sarandon

Susan Sarandon: distinguished, intelligent, and determined.

In another piece of research cited by Todorov, the positive traits of being “distinguished, intelligent and determined” were associated with faces like Susan Sarandon’s: an older appearance, thinner lips, and wrinkles at the corners of the eyes. 


Competence is associated with darker skin, masculine features and attractiveness

idris elba

You'd trust him to get the job done: Idris Elba.

In an experiment conducted at the Todorov Lab at Princeton, people were presented with computer-generated images of faces and asked to rate how competent they thought the faces looked.


Read more: Pedantic about grammar? It says a lot about your sex life, according to this study


As the faces gradually became more masculine, more attractive and darker-skinned, their perceived competence also increased, according to Business Insider.


Smiley women are seen as being most trustworthy

emilia clarke

The always-cheery Emilia Clarke: would you trust this woman?

In a similar experiment, Todorov and his colleagues also used computer-generated faces to find out which features are most associated with trustworthiness, Business Insider reports. They discovered that the more feminine and smiley a face is – think Game of Thrones’ ever-beaming Emilia Clarke – the more likely people are to trust them. 


People have a lot of feelings about baby faces

selena gomez

The baby-faced Selena Gomez.

Baby faces (characterised by large eyes, a round face, full lips and a small nose bridge, like Selena Gomez)  can be both a blessing and a curse, and psychological research has found that they elicit a mixed range of responses. They're perceived as being physically weak, naïve and submissive – but also as honest, kind and warm.

Images: Rex Features

Related

angelina-brad-2007.jpg

Why do we care so much about celebrity gossip?

Ross_and_Rachel_finale_2.jpg

Friends with your ex? This study says you should ask yourself why

woman stressed woods.jpg

Psychology teacher’s list of 101 ways to cope with stress goes viral

Comments

More

BMA votes to make abortion legal in England and Wales

It is still an offence punishable by life in prison

by Amy Swales
28 Jun 2017

36 fashionable Irish baby names taking the world by storm

These melodic baby names all hail from the emerald isle…

by Kayleigh Dray
28 Jun 2017

Rosé ice cream is the summer treat we all deserve

The latest food fad combines two of our favourite things

by Elle Griffiths
28 Jun 2017

Power plant makes girls compete for internships in bikini competition

We can't even.

by Sarah Biddlecombe
28 Jun 2017

Original and imaginative: the perks of people who like being alone

Those who are unafraid of being single have 'greater self-esteem in relationships'

by Anna Brech
28 Jun 2017

The Department of Education reveals how much less it pays women

And teachers have responded

by Sarah Biddlecombe
28 Jun 2017

Lauren Graham is so ready for the Gilmore Girls Christmas film

The actor is game for playing Lorelai in another installment

by Elle Griffiths
28 Jun 2017

High-street chemist finally slashes price of morning-after pill

The chain has been hailed as “trailblazing” for its attitude to sexual health

by Amy Swales
28 Jun 2017

USA Gymnastics apologises in wake of sexual abuse scandal

The governing body failed to act when coaches were suspected of abusing underage athletes

by Anna Brech
28 Jun 2017

New law cracks down on domestic violence by UK citizens overseas

Legislation will show perpetrators "there is nowhere to hide"

by Anna Brech
28 Jun 2017