Many of us are guilty of making judgements about a person’s character based on the way they look. Now, a new study by researchers at the University of York in the UK suggests that it is possible to predict what first impressions a person will attract from their facial features.

The research team, led by Dr. Tom Hartley and Prof. Andy Young of the Department of Psychology at the University of York, recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Facial feature modelShare on Pinterest
Researchers have created a scientific model that they say can predict first impressions based on a person’s facial features.
Image credit: University of York

When we look at a person’s face, we tend to make quick judgements about their personality – whether they are trustworthy or friendly, for example.

The researchers note that although these judgements are often flawed, they can influence our social behavior. By looking at a picture of a politician and deeming then untrustworthy, for instance, we may be less likely to vote for them in a general election.

Past studies have suggested that our first impressions of another individual can be divided into three “dimensions,” according to the team. These are approachability (will this person help or harm us?), dominance (do they have the ability to help or harm us?) and youthful-attractiveness (will they be a rival? Or a good romantic partner?).

The researchers set out to see whether they could determine what causes us to make certain judgements from the faces of others.

“Understanding how first impressions are formed to faces is a topic of major theoretical and practical interest that has been given added importance through the widespread use of images of faces in social media,” they explain.

For their study, the researchers analyzed the physical features of 1,000 faces from various photographs available online. These photos were then shown to a panel of judges, who were required to disclose judgements of that person’s character based on their faces.

The researchers then took 65 different measurements of each face, including eye height and eyebrow width, in order to create a model to predict first impressions.

The team found that their model was able to account for 58% of the variance in the judges’ impressions of the faces.

The researchers have used these measurements to create cartoon-like faces that show the facial features associated with initial perceptions of approachability, youthful-attractiveness and dominance.

The study, the researchers say, emphasizes the importance of faces in creating a first impression – something that Hartley says is surprising:

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. These results show how heavily these impressions are influenced by visual features of the face – it’s quite an eye opener!”

The team says their findings may even provide insight into the “instinctive expertise” of individuals who create and manipulate photographs in their line of work, such as casting editors and animators.

“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 study author Richard Vernon, PhD.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from Ohio State University, revealing how they have taught computers to recognize 21 different human emotions from distinct facial expressions.