People’s appearance is extremely important for how we make judgements about their personality. But a new study suggests that we often draw the wrong conclusions.
What first impression do you make?
Upload a representative photo of yourself – with a neutral facial expression – to face.cbs.dtu.dk and find out what kind of first impression you are likely to make on others.
The model will annotate the image, and the distance between a set of reference points will reveal how you will be judged, based on 12 traits.
Is it possible to form an impression of people’s personalities simply by examining their facial features? Karin Wolffhechel from Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has examined this question as part of her PhD studies – and the short answer is ‘no’.
Nevertheless, our faces do reflect certain personality traits. For example, men with broad jaws will often be viewed as dominant, as they do indeed have a slight tendency to be. Similarly, it’s likely that women regarded as adventurous and emotionally stable will also have ambition as a marked personality trait.
The correlation is by no means unambiguous, but that doesn’t stop people from generalising. It’s well known that we instinctively rely on facial features when forming our first impression of a person. And that’s precisely why we often make mistakes and generalise too much when we assess people’s personalities.
“We discovered that people usually apply three general factors when evaluating a face: credibility, dominance, and attractiveness. People largely agreed on the extent to which a person inspired confidence and appeared responsible and intelligent. We also noted that if a person was considered attractive, then he or she would typically be classed as more adventurous, extrovert, healthy and emotionally stable. Finally, people were in close agreement regarding how dominant a given person would be,” says Wolffhechel.
“So it’s clear that people are heavily influenced by the facial features of others. If, for example, you have a ‘neutral’ face that has a natural tendency to appear smiling, people will typically assume that you are a friendly person – even though this may be a false assumption.”
The study has resulted in a model that can predict the first impression a person makes. You can test the model online.
244 test subjects
As a part of the experiment, 244 staff and students at DTU had their pictures taken, showing their ‘neutral’ faces. The same set-up and background were used for all the pictures. Reference points were then applied to the pictures for calculation of coordinates that describe the facial features.
The test subjects were required to take a personality test designed to highlight five general personality traits – sociability, responsibility, extroversion, emotional stability, intellectual openness – and 17 subordinated features.
Finally, the test subjects were asked to evaluate pictures of 20 other participants, scoring twelve different personality traits and facial features on a scale of 1 to 9.