How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide important visual communications to observers.

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

To evaluate observers’ accuracy in judging personality traits based on the appearance of people they didn’t know, Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann, with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin asked volunteers to rate 10 personality traits.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

These characteristics included Big Five Personality Traits –  Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, proposed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the U.S. National Institutes of Health .

In addition, participants assessed likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation) of people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

These measures were compared with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with the individual.

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 more personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.
This suggests that candid photographs provide more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

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 make accurate inferences about some personality characterics based on visual cues, validating novelist John Irving’s 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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8 thoughts on “How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

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