Sussing out what we see in each other’s faces
As social animals, humans love looking at faces. Even objects that vaguely resemble two eyes and a mouth are often anthropomorphized, sometimes with personalities being attributed to the sink, wall socket or headlights in the process. But cues are we looking for when we have these reactions? In an actual human, what are we responding to when we feel that somebody seems nice, just from glancing at them? It seems that some traits are built into the shape of a face, while others are coming what expressions are being made at the time.
Isolating these two influences was not completely simple. Researchers picked a very range of faces and qualities to look for in order to avoid a sprawling web of interconnected traits. On the facial structure side of the coin, they tested if the shape, and more specifically the width of a face, could influence how people saw personalities and physical strength. Strength was selected, because previous studies had found correlations between wider bone structure and higher testosterone, giving this connection a chance to be perceived by test subjects.
The range of expressions was a bit more varied, but the core traits were based around how trustworthy someone might be when they were frowning, scowling, or smiling. Many combinations of the above were compared, even though the initial seeds for these variations were a small batch of men who had had their photos manipulated to accentuate and vary these different attributes.
Sorting through shape and sentiment
The findings are that humans, or at least the humans participating in the study, really are connoisseurs of reading faces. Observers of faces were able to parse different attributes with a fair amount of granularity— nobody was attributing emotional or personality traits to bone structure, while strength was discretely tied to the width of a face. This may seem obvious, but there researchers were curious if an angry, aggressive expression might be perceived as strong, since signs of aggression can sometimes influence us more than we might realize.
So in the end, how people just your personality is, thankfully, under your control. Even if you’re not a fan of your nose, cheek bones or chin, the way to convince people that you’re warm or trustworthy is just to smile.
Source: Your Facial Bone Structure Has a Big Influence on How People See You by Jessica Schmerler, Scientific American