Judging a book by its cover – faces and personality

face behind the mask“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. ]

3 thoughts on “Judging a book by its cover – faces and personality”

  1. And would it be so bad, if those looking a certain way were treated a certain way? There’s evidence, that men choosing “beautiful” women are in fact choosing women who are better at bearing and comforting children. Just to name one example. So, choosing by looks makes good sense.

  2. Lise: I think it would be terrible, because thru life experience i’ve learned you really can’t judge a book by its cover. For every 3 times i’ve done this, i’ve been wrong at least once and looked like a fool. Choosing how you treat people or categorize them based purely on looks is among one of humanity’s worst traits.

  3. I won’t comment about the difference between me (a digital person living in Second Life) and my Primary. What I will comment upon is that prettyness is a comfort-building resource that is criminally underestimated in the real world.

    Realize the implications of that. If you are sub-par pretty, or have an unsettling something about you, this will wreck you, as a person, significantly reduce your opportunities and make you mentally less resolute or happy. The constant barrage of prejudice towards the less palatable makes these people fail more (though not always) and the constant affirmation of the pretty makes them live a more easily life (though not always – and this is not the same as making the succeed more).

    I have seen the difference in SL and I am awestruck with the effect. I never knew what a difference it amount to and how insidious it is. And now, when I do know, I have learned to really loathe humanity 1.0. We are a barbaric, revolting species and we need to become civilized very soon.

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