What’s in a face? Does our exterior tell us anything about our interior? Can we make predictions about personality by studying face shapes or facial features? Are certain personality characteristics correlated with measures of physical beauty and attractiveness?
Face Reading, Personality, & Attractiveness
According to Wikipedia, face reading, or “physiognomy,” refers to the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face.” “Personology,” according to the same source, “relies on physiognomy and facial features to analyze and predict character traits and behavior.”
Though often dismissed as pseudoscientific, recent research suggests there is at least a “kernel of truth” to such practices. In this post, we will explore the relationships between facial features, the Big Five and the Myers Briggs (MBTI) personality taxonomy.
The journal article we will be consulting is “Personality Judgments from Natural and Composite Facial Images” by Penton-Voak and colleagues (Social Cognition, 2006). This study used a Big Five questionnaire to evaluate personality traits. However, research has shown the Big Five to closely correlate with the Myers-Briggs. Here’s how the two taxonomies are related:
Penton-Voak’s study consisted of two parts. The first involved having subjects assess the personality traits of individuals who had taken the Big Five questionnaire based on their facial photograph. In the second part of the study, subjects evaluated composite photos with respect to physical attractiveness. The composites were made using computer software that combined the faces of those scoring high on a given personality dimension, thus producing a sort of “average” face for a given trait. Here are the composites used for the study (Note: I translated the Big Five domains to their corresponding Myers-Briggs type):
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For the first part of the study (i.e., rating individual photos), the researchers found that raters were able to accurately identify (i.e., face read), males who were extraverted (E) and intuitive (N). For females, raters were able to accurately identify only those who were extroverted (E). This coheres with the findings of other studies, which found that the most robust evidence for the efficacy of physiognomy for both sexes was the ability to perceive extraversion. It is also consistent with studies that have indicated that it is somewhat easier to read the personality of male faces than females.
In the second part of the study, subjects deemed (with statistical significance) the composites of Extraverts, Feelers, and Judgers to be most attractive. For females, those who were Extraverts, Intuitives, and Feelers were considered most attractive.
Here’s a quick summary of the overall findings:
Note: For those who are concerned about being deemed unattractive, it is worth noting that the composites involved those who were in the top 10% for each dimension. In other words, the researchers used individuals at the extremes of each personality dimension. There are also a number of additional factors in perceived attractiveness including facial symmetry, grooming / make-up, body shape, personality factors, etc. This study relied exclusively on headshot photographs for assessing attractiveness.