. . . but the face is familiar

August 7, 2008

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Be wary of first impressions. Appearances can be deceiving. Not so fast there, you trusting soul:

A pair of Princeton psychology researchers has developed a computer program that allows scientists to analyze better than ever before what it is about certain human faces that makes them look either trustworthy or fearsome. In doing so, they have also found that the program allows them to construct computer-generated faces that display the most trustworthy or dominant faces possible.

[. . .]

Common features of both trustworthiness and dominance emerged. A trustworthy face, at its most extreme, has a U-shaped mouth and eyes that form an almost surprised look. An untrustworthy face, at its most extreme, is an angry one with the edges of the mouth curled down and eyebrows pointing down at the center. The least dominant face possible is one resembling a baby’s with a larger distance between the eyes and the eyebrows than other faces. A threatening face can be obtained by averaging an untrustworthy and a dominant face.

That’s why I grew a beard. It distracts from my mouth, so it takes people longer to decide whether I’m trustworthy or not, and I’m therefore in more control. I was going for the warm-and-fuzzy Fidel Castro look, but I think I ended up looking more like Ted Kaczynski.

I notice that nowhere do the researchers claim that people are actually right in their snap judgments of who is or is not trustworthy, but I expect many people will take that to be so. That would make this a case of science being used merely to reinforce existing prejudices. Glad that’s never happened before.


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