How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide important visual communications to observers.
-*How accurately do observers comprehend these visual communications?

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann collaborated with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin to evaluate observers’ accuracy in judging personality traits based on the appearance of people they didn’t know.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

Volunteers rated 10 personality traits (Paul Costa and Robert McCrae’s Big Five: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, as well as likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation) attributed to people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

The research team compared these measures with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with the person.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

Observers’ judgments were accurate when they rated extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity among people photographed in a “standardized” pose, and were correct for even more of personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.
This suggests that candid photographs can provide even more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

According to Naumann’s team, static cues such as clothing style, and dynamic cues including facial expression and posture provided “cue validity” that enabled observers to make accurate judgments of personality characteristics by “cue utilization.”

John Irving

John Irving

These findings confirmed that observers can make accurate inferences about some personality characterics based on visual cues about others, validating novelist John Irving’s same assertion through his narrator, John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “Things often are as they appear. First impressions matter.

-*How accurate are your judgments of personality traits in people you don’t already know?
-*How accurate are other people’s inferences about your personality traits?

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