Expressions in photos can predict first impressions: study

  • AFP
  • Updated: Jul 30, 2014 17:05 IST

Researchers from the psychology department at the University of York say measurements of facial expressions and features in photos found in social media can actually predict first impressions of those people.

"We make first impressions of others so intuitively that it seems effortless," says PhD student Clare Sutherland. "I think it's fascinating that we can pin this down with scientific models."

The study was based on other research that says a wide range of judgments can be narrowed down to three categories where first impressions are concerned.

The first is approachability, which tackles the question of whether the person in question could cause harm or be of help to the one making the judgment.

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Next comes dominance, which is a question of whether the person is actually able to either cause harm or be of help.

And finally, the category researchers call "youthful attractiveness" pertains to romantic assessments and judgments about romantic rivals.

In the experimentation phase, which aimed to expand on the above theory, researchers worked with ordinary everyday photos of 1,000 faces from social media.

They analyzed the faces to develop a model based on 65 different features, many of which pertained to seemingly minute details of a given face such as "eye height" or "eyebrow width."

Their model was able to predict half the judgments made about those faces when they were presented to participants willing to meet them and give their first impression.

Researchers then ordered caricatures of the faces and showed them to a new set of participants later on.

Ultimately, the caricatures illustrated the facial features that play the biggest role in creating first impressions just as the photos did.

"In everyday life I am not conscious of the way faces and pictures of faces are influencing the way I interact with people," says study leader Dr. Tom Hartley. "These results show how heavily these impressions are influenced by visual features of the face, it's quite an eye opener."

According to Sutherland, plans are being made for future studies to explore how the model could change for different cultural, gender and ethnic groups.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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