Facial features can make or break first impressions

"Showing that even supposedly arbitrary features in a face can influence people's perceptions suggests that careful choice of a photo could make (or break) others' first impressions of you," says Richard Vernon. (Credit: Erin Sparling/Flickr)

Scientists say it’s possible to predict first impressions based on different facial features, such as eye height or eyebrow width.

The researchers developed a model based on 65 different physical features. They used the model to predict how people would make quick judgments about another person’s character, for example whether the person was¬†friendly, trustworthy, or competent.

range of facial features

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how important faces and specific images of faces can be in creating a favorable or unfavorable first impression.

“Showing that even supposedly arbitrary features in a face can influence people’s perceptions suggests that careful choice of a photo could make (or break) others’ first impressions of you,” says Richard Vernon, a PhD student who was part of the research team from the University of York.

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The team also applied the model in reverse and created cartoon-like faces that produced predictable first impressions. These images also illustrate the features that are associated with particular social judgements.

“In everyday life I am not conscious of the way faces and pictures of faces are influencing the way I interact with people. Whether in ‘real life’ or online; it feels as if a person’s character is something I can just sense,” says Tom Hartley, who co-led the research with Professor Andy Young.

“These results show how heavily these impressions are influenced by visual features of the face. It’s quite an eye-opener!” adds Hartley.

The impressions we create through images of our faces (“avatars” or “selfies”) are becoming more and more important in a world where we increasingly get to know one another online rather than in the flesh.

“We make first impressions of others so intuitively that it seems effortless. I think it’s fascinating that we can pin this down with scientific models,” says Clare Sutherland, a PhD student at York. “I’m now looking at how these first impressions might change depending on different cultural or gender groups of perceivers or faces.”

Source: University of York