Scientists have identified countless ways that we judge people based on their looks, even when those judgments have no basis in reality.
"We form these immediate impressions of people — we just can’t help it," Alexander Todorov, a psychology professor at Princeton University, told Business Insider.
Todorov’s lab tests responses to computer-generated faces to model traits associated with perceived attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence, and more.
Todorov warns that these impressions are highly inaccurate. People have many biases, including halo effects — where we assume one positive trait will be followed by others — and stereotypes — where we associate behaviors with looks. Still, the professor says it’s worth understanding them, if only to fight them.
We’ve highlighted some findings from Todorov and others below.
We assume more attractive people rate higher in other positive traits, too, perceiving them as more competent, intelligent, trustworthy, and more.
Source: research overview in Todorov, Alexander et al. 2015, “Social Attributions from Faces: Determinants, Consequences, Accuracy, and Functional Significance” in “Annual Review of Psychology 2015,” 15.4
We associate baby-faced appearance with physical weakness, naïvety, submissiveness, honestness, kindness, and warmth. Baby-faced appearance includes relatively larger eyes, a rounder face, a larger ratio of cranium to chin.
Source: research overview in Zebrowitz, Leslie 2011, “Ecological and Social Approaches to Face Perception” in “Oxford Handbook of Face Perception,” 40
Yes, women tend to have more baby-faced qualities than men.
Source: research overview in Zebrowitz 2011,” 38
Neutral faces often resemble emotional expressions. Angry faces are perceived as less likable and trustworthy and more powerful, hostile, and threatening, while the opposite is true for happy faces.
Source: research overview in Zebrowitz 2011, 36