Princeton-led study finds facial impressions driven by our own experiences

November 14, 2016

The pseudoscience of physiognomy - judging people's character from their faces - has been around for centuries, but a new Princeton University study shows that people make such judgments based on their own experiences.

The results appear in the journal Nature Human Behavior. A PDF is available on request. The study included researchers from Princeton University, Utrecht University and Hebrew University.

In previous research, senior author Alexander Todorov, a professor of psychology, and colleagues showed that we make up our minds about others after seeing their faces for a fraction of a second - and that these snap judgments, which are usually incorrect, predict economic, legal, voting and other decisions. "People form instantaneous impressions from facial appearance, but what drives these impressions?" Todorov says.

Most previous research has focused on identifying configurations of facial features that lead to specific impressions, but there are other important determinants of these impressions that are grounded in one's idiosyncratic history of exposure to faces. In their new study, Todorov and his colleagues propose a new direction in the study of inferences from faces. They argue that any face can be positioned in a statistical distribution of faces extracted from the environment and that understanding inferences from faces requires consideration of their statistical position on that distribution - or how typical facial features are to the viewer.

The study's participants were shown hundreds of faces and asked to judge their trustworthiness, attractiveness, competence and other characteristics. The results showed that exposure to different faces not only shifts what faces people perceive as typical, but also what faces they evaluate more positively (more typical faces are evaluated more positively).

"Our results show that the mere statistical position of faces imbues them with social meaning -- faces are evaluated more negatively the more they deviate from a learned central tendency, or what each person considers a typical face," Todorov says. "These determinants of impressions are not about facial features per se but about one's learning of faces. In other words, although there is no 'average' human face, you like faces that are closer to your own definition of a typical face. Our findings have important implications for understanding cross-cultural and inter-group differences in evaluation of faces."
Princeton Professor Alexander Todorov, whose book "Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions" is to be published in May 2017, is available to comment at atodorov@exchange.Princeton.EDU.

Broadcast studios: Princeton has TV and radio studios available for interviews. For more information, visit: or contact, (609) 258-7872.

Princeton University

Related Facial Features Articles from Brightsurf:

Earphone tracks facial expressions, even with a face mask
Cornell University researchers have invented an earphone that can continuously track full facial expressions by observing the contour of the cheeks - and can then translate expressions into emojis or silent speech commands.

First 3D look at an embryonic sauropod dinosaur reveals unexpected facial features
About 25 years ago, researchers discovered the first dinosaur embryos in an enormous nesting ground of titanosaurian dinosaurs.

Age-related features of facial anatomy for increase safety during plastic surgery
Researchers from the Center for Diagnostics and Telemedicine together with colleagues from Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, University of Munich and Sechenov University used computed tomography to analyze the individual anatomy of the nasolabial triangle.

From age 8 we spontaneously link vocal to facial emotion
Do children have to wait until age 8 to recognize -- spontaneously and without instructions -- the same emotion of happiness or anger depending on whether it is expressed by a voice or on a face?

New rare disease with own facial features, cardiac defects and developmental delay
An international multicentre study describes a rare disease characterized by a series of recognizable facial features, cardiac defects and intellectual disability, which they propose to name as TRAF7 syndrome -according to the name of the gen that causes this pathology.

The facial expressions of mice
The face of a mouse reveals its emotions.

Facial expressions don't tell the whole story of emotion
Facial expressions might not be reliable indicators of emotion, research indicates.

Facial recognition software has a gender problem
A new study of popular facial analysis services found they misidentified trans men as much as 38% of the time, mischaracterized non-binary individuals 100% of the time and appeared to be based on outdated gender stereotypes.

Facial recognition technique could improve hail forecasts
The same artificial intelligence technique typically used in facial recognition systems could help improve prediction of hailstorms and their severity, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Young children judge others based on facial features as much as adults do
Just like adults, children by the age of 5 make rapid and consistent character judgements of others based on facial features, such as the tilt of the mouth or the distance between the eyes.

Read More: Facial Features News and Facial Features Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to