Personality judgments from natural and composite facial images: more evidence for a “kernel of truth” in social perception.


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  PENTON-VOAK ETAL. PERSONALITY JUDGMENTS FROM FACIALIMAGES PERSONALITYJUDGMENTS FROM NATURALAND COMPOSITE FACIAL IMAGES: MOREEVIDENCE FOR A“KERNEL OF TRUTH”IN SOCIAL PERCEPTION Ian S. Penton–Voak University of Bristol  Nicholas Pound Brunel University  Anthony C. Little University of Liverpool  David I. Perrett University of St Andrews  In addition to signaling identity, sex, age, and emotional state, people fre-quently use facial characteristics as a basis for personality attributions. Typi-cally, there is a high degree of consensus in the attributions made to faces.Nevertheless, the extent to which such judgments are veridical is unclear andsomewhat controversial. We have examined the relationship between self–re-port and perceived personality using both faces of individuals and computergraphiccomposites.Photographsweretakenof146menand148womenwhoeachalsocompletedaself–reportpersonalityquestionnairefromwhichscoresonthebigfivepersonalitydimensionswerederived.Instudy1,weidentifiedarelationship between self–reported extraversion and perceived extraversion inindividual faces. For male faces alone, we also found some accuracy in theperceptionofemotionalstabilityandopennesstoexperience.Instudy2,com-positefacesweremadefromindividualsself–reportinghighandlowscoresoneach of the five dimensions. These composites were rated for personality andattractiveness by independent raters. Discriminant analyses indicated that,controlling for attractiveness, independent ratings on congruent personalitydimensionswerebestabletodiscriminatebetweencompositefacesgenerated 607 Social Cognition, Vol. 24, No. 5, 2006, pp.607-640Correspondence to Ian Penton–Voak, E–mail: I.S.Penton–  from individuals high or low on the self–report dimensions of agreeableness,extraversion, and, for male faces only, emotional stability. Itwouldbeeasytostartthisarticlewithaquotefromanovelorplayrelatinganindividual’sfacialfeaturestohisorherpersonalityattrib-utesorcharacter,sincethebeliefthatfacesportraycharacterisubiq-uitous. This persistence of lay theories of physiognomy is hard tocredit, given the long–standing assumption that such attributionsare considered to be erroneous by “orthodox” science. Nonetheless,in1974Liggetreportedthat90%ofundergraduatestudentsbelievedthatthefaceisavalidguidetocharacter.By2000,thisfigurewasstillaround75%(Hassin&Trope,2000),andtheimportanceofthisbelief can hardly be overstated. A recent article demonstrated that infer-encesofcompetencemadefrompoliticians’facespredictedU.S.con-gressional election outcomes at levels far above chance (the most“competent”lookingcandidatewoninnearly70%ofthe2004senateraces; Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, & Hall, 2005). Within psychol-ogy,itisgenerallythoughtthatthetraitinferencesmadefromfaces,although consistent, have very low validity. Here, however, we briefly review the growing literature suggesting that somewhat ac-curate perception of personality is possible from facial characteris-ticsalone.Inthetwostudiesreportedhere,weassesstheaccuracyof responses made to individual faces and to computer compositefaces.Thereisaconsiderableliteratureonthenatureoftheattributionswemakewhenencounteringotherpeople.Someofthisworkhasinvesti-gatedtheinferencesthataremadetotargetfacesassociatedwithcer-tainbehaviors,typicallybypairingfacestimuliwithbriefdescriptionsof behavior (Todorov & Uleman, 2002, 2004). These studies suggestthat these spontaneoustrait inferencesbecome an integral part oftherepresentation of a person, rather than mere associations caused bytheco–occurrenceoffacesandbehaviors,assuggestedbyearlierwork(e.g.,Skowronski,Carlston,Mae,&Crawford,1998).Giventhatsocialperceptionfunctionstoguideourownactionsandpredicttheactionsofothers,incorporatingtraitattributionsintorepresentationsofindi-vidual conspecifics seems judicious.Nevertheless, the willingness of people to make personality attri- butions in the absence of behavioral cues (i.e., from facial informa-tion alone) is perhaps somewhat surprising. We seem to make suchinferences about personality traits spontaneously and without re- 608PENTON-VOAK ET AL.  flection or deliberation (Hassin & Trope, 2000; Todorov et al., 2005).In short, many aspects of person perception could be considered to be “intuitive” in a two-system framework (Kahneman, 2003).Social–cognitive approaches to person perception often stresseconomyininformationprocessing.Perceptualcuesmayactastrig-gers for categorization of individuals, which may in turn lead to theactivationofstereotypes(Cloutier,Mason,&Macrae,2005).Inmanycases,thecuestocategorymembership (sexorage,forexample)arethemselvesaccurate,evenifthestereotypesthenactivatedarenot.Itisintriguingtoconsider thepossibilitythattheremay beperceptualcues that accurately inform judgments of personality. Should suchcues exist, a number of questions emerge in person perception, be-cause trait attribution ceases to be a generally inaccurate cognitiveshortcut and becomes instead a potentially adaptive perceptualability.Physiognomy has a bad reputation in psychology, and this islargely well deserved: most “studies” in the area have been reso-lutely unscientific, leading physiognomists to be dismissed as char-latans (or worse). Studies carried out in the first half of the 20thcentury demonstrated that measurements of individual facial fea-tures seldom, if ever, correlate with psychological characteristics(e.g.,Cleeton&Knight,1924).Sincethe1940s,althoughworkinthisarea has been sporadic, it has generally yielded similar negative re-sults (e.g., Alley, 1988, for review). More recent work, however, hassuggestedthattheremayinfactbesomeobservablerelationshipsbe-tween physical appearance and personality that could have formedthe basis for the beliefs, if not the methods, of the physiognomists.Onedifferencebetweenmorerecentandearlierapproachestojudg-mental accuracy is that later research concentrates less on fea-ture-based relationships (e.g., do long noses accurately indicate anyaspect of personality?) and more on configural properties of faces(Hassin & Trope, 2000). Configural approaches are more consistentwithcurrenttheoriesoffaceprocessingingeneral—cognitiverepre-sentationsoffacesseemtobemore“holistic”thanrepresentationsof other objects such as houses (Tanaka & Farah, 1993). Here the terms“configural”and“holistic”shouldbetakenasreferringtothediver-sityofpossiblecuestopersonality,includingtherelativepositionsof thedifferentpartsoftheface.Aconfiguralorholisticapproachdoesnot ignore individual facial “features”; rather, it does not specify inadvance exactly what constitutes a feature. Previous feature–based PERSONALITY JUDGMENTS FROM FACIAL IMAGES609  approaches have considered particular structures as features (e.g.,thenoseorthelips).However,afeaturecanbemorebroadlyconsid-eredasanythingthatisvisual andpotentially diagnostic. Forexam-ple, the spaces between and arrangement of structures moretraditionally considered as “features” (e.g., the space between eyesand eyebrows) may be a cue to some aspects of perceivedpersonality.Ratherthancorrelatingphysicalmeasurementswithself–reportedpersonality traits, more recent studies concentrate on the relation-ship between strangers’ impressions of a person, configural proper-ties(suchasthemultiplefacialcuesthatcontributetoa“baby–faced”appearance), and the personality that that person self–reports(Zebrowitz, 1998). STUDIES AT ZERO ACQUAINTANCE Studies using zero acquaintance paradigms (in which participantsrate the personality of strangers) have found a surprising degree of correlation betweenself–ratingsandstrangerratingsonpersonalitydimensions, oftenusingfive-factormodelsofpersonality(e.g.,Nor-man,1963). Manytraittheoristsagreethatfivetraitdimensions(de-rived from factor analyses of ratings of trait adjective pairs) seem torepresent a reasonable compromise that is at least a partially accu-ratemeasureofpeople’spersonalities(e.g.,Barrett&Pietromonaco,1997; McCrae & Costa, 1987; Watson, 1989).Ofparticularrelevancetotheworkpresentedinthisarticle,ispre-vious research employing a five–factor personality model that hasdemonstrated asurprisingcorrelation betweenstrangerratingsandself–ratings of an individual’s personality. Zero acquaintance stud-ies show that people are able to generate consensual impressions of others’ personalities. Not only do different judges generate similarresponsestoagiventargetindividual,butalsotheseimpressionsaremoreaccurate thanwouldbeexpectedbychance(i.e.,theseimpres-sions agree with the target’s self–ratings). Whilethese studies dem-onstrate that trait attribution on zero acquaintance can besurprisingly accurate, few have studied specifically the role of theface alone in these judgments.InPassiniandNorman’s1966 experiment, small groupsofunder-graduateswereputtogetherfora15-minuteperiodandasked,with-out verbal interaction, to rate each other using scales corresponding 610PENTON-VOAK ET AL.
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