A pair of Princeton psychology researchers has developed a computer program that allows scientists to analyze better than ever before what it is about certain human faces that makes them look either trustworthy or fearsome. In doing so, they have also found that the program allows them to construct computer-generated faces that display the most trustworthy or dominant faces possible.
Such work could have implications for those who care what effect their faces may have upon a beholder, from salespeople to criminal defendants, the researchers said.
In a paper appearing in the online edition this week of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alexander Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton, and Nikolaas Oosterhof, a research specialist, continue an inquiry into the myriad messages conveyed by the human face. In 2005, Todorov's lab garnered international headlines with a study published in Science demonstrating that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election results.
Taking what they have learned over time -- namely that, rightly or wrongly, people make instant judgments about faces that guide them in how they feel about that person -- the scientists decided to search for a way to quantify and define exactly what it is about each person's face that conveys a sense they can be trusted or feared. They chose those precise traits because they found they corresponded with a whole host of other vital characteristics, such as happiness and maturity.
"Humans seem to be wired to look to faces to understand the person's intentions," said Todorov, who has spent years studying the subtleties of the simple plane containing the eyes, nose and mouth. "People are always asking themselves, 'Does this person have good or bad intentions?'"
To conduct the study, the scientists showed unfamiliar faces to test subjects and asked them to describe traits they
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