You can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their face. At least, your brain thinks you can. And a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that your brain, as usual, is right.
As Trace Dominguez explains in today's DNews dispatch, psychologists have long been fascinated by the idea of physiognomy -- the process of judging someone's character by their facial features or expressions. Physiognomy impacts hundreds of our everyday interactions with people. Studies have shown that first impressions and overall assumptions are heavily informed by facial features and appearance.
But these impressions are surely arbitrary, right? We're all familiar with the advice regarding books and their covers.
Well, one recent study suggests that our brains are actually very good indeed at sussing out information on a person just by looking at facial features. In the experiment, published in the journal The Leadership Quarterly, participants were asked to simply look at a photo of a person's face and guess their occupation. The images were carefully screened to make sure they contained no indications in terms clothing or background.
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Out of 325 CEOs, 64 U.S. Army Generals, 66 state governors, and 43 American football coaches -- all unknowns -- the participants were able to accurately match face to occupation at a far better rate than pure chance. The study builds on previous research which has produced similar results.
A 2009 study published in the journal Science found that Swiss children as young as five years old were able to predict the winners of Parliamentary elections just by looking at their faces. Still another study revealed that randomly selected voters could predict, in advance, the winners of around 70 percent of U.S. congressional and gubernatorial races.
The implication has less to do with prognostication than the idea that certain kinds of faces tend to win elections. A 2016 study in Cogent Psychology found older voters tend to look for older, more attractive faces, while younger voters were less influenced by attractiveness.
As you might imagine, political consultants are very interested in these ideas. It's something to keep in mind next time you're in the voting booth.
-- Glenn McDonald
Scientific American: The Look Of A Winner
Science Magazine: Identifying The Brain's Own Facial Recognition System
Science Daily: How Does The Brain Recognize Faces From Minimal Information?