“You can’t tell what someone’s really like just by looking at them,” my mother told me once. But then again she also told me that “first impressions last,” and it turns out she was right on both counts – despite the seeming contradiction.
It turns out that we judge the personalities our fellow humans by their facial layout all the time, and evidence suggests that there may be a grain of truth in the judgements:
People also act on these snap judgements. Politicians with competent-looking faces have a greater chance of being elected, and CEOs who look dominant are more likely to run a profitable company. Baby-faced men and those with compassionate-looking faces tend to be over-represented in the caring professions. Soldiers deemed to look dominant tend to rise faster through the ranks, while their baby-faced comrades tend to be weeded out early. When baby-faced men appear in court they are more likely than their mature-faced peers to be exonerated from a crime. However, they are also more likely to be found guilty of negligence.
There is also a well-established “attractiveness halo”. People seen as good-looking not only get the most valentines but are also judged to be more outgoing, socially competent, powerful, sexually responsive, intelligent and healthy. They do better in all manner of ways, from how they are greeted by other people to how they are treated by the criminal justice system.
In other words, we all do it instinctively… as much as we might like to think otherwise. The latest research implies that it’s almost certainly an overgeneralisation based on an evolved response, but that means it’s been there for thousands of years, and probably isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Will we eventually end up with a political class that look like clones of one another*, all carefully sculpted to have agreeable and trustworthy by the most subtle and discerning elective surgeries? Will soldiers be re-cut to look more intimidating and fearless? What other subtle messages might we hide in our faces… and what would our willingness to do so say about the true character beneath? [via FuturePundit; image by xenia antunes]
[ * – OK, I meant even more so than currently. ]
A new study says personality traits vary by region in the U.S (pdf). Here’s the map for niceness. Minnesota’s score does not surprise me (assuming there’s anything to this at all, of course). The study also maps openness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness (and it’s surprising to see my adopted state of Arizona scoring so high there). Color maps next time, please, professors. Actual marketing people need these.
[Tip: Andrew Sullivan; image: Rentfrow et al.]
OK, hypothetical question – let’s say you could pick any personality trait to be chemically enhanced. Which aspects of your personality would be in the top three? [image by Tom Saint]
According to a recent study, you’re most likely to be willing to tweak the parts of your psyche that you don’t consider fundamental to to your identity as a person – your ability to concentrate, for example, or maybe the number of hours of sleep you need each night. [via FuturePundit]
Human enhancement drugs are still very much in their infancy at the moment; to draw an analogy, many people were pretty leery of plastic surgery when it was first becoming more commonplace. So I suspect that we’ll see the ‘early-adopter’ pattern with more drastic enhancements, with artists, outcasts and other pioneers of the psyche venturing out beyond mere ‘cosmetic’ cognitive enhancement… after all, think how useful it would be to become autistic for a week.
“To have another language is to possess a second soul,” Charlemagne supposedly said, possibly in a Germanic dialect of the Franks. That certainly implies another personality, which is what researchers in the Journal of Consumer Research report observing in a study of bicultural, bilingual women.
…[W]omen classified themselves as more assertive when they spoke Spanish than when they spoke English. They also had significantly different perceptions of women in ads when the ads were in Spanish versus English. “In the Spanish-language sessions, informants perceived females as more self-sufficient and extroverted,” write the authors.
The researchers say the shift, which seems to occur unconsciously, could have implications for political and purchasing choices. Not to mention an interesting side-effect to a shrinking world.