Tag Archives: Alexander Todorov

Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often evaluate others using facial profiling making inferences of personality attributes by visual observation, according to Georgetown University Hospital’s Michael J. Reilly, Jaclyn A. Tomsic and Steven P. Davison, collaborating with Stephen J. Fernandez of MedStar Health Research Institute.
This cognitive shortcut can lead to biased impressions and limited opportunities for those unfavorably judged.

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

The research team asked observers to rate women’s personality and character traits following plastic surgery procedures between 2009, and 2013 including:

  • Chin implant,
  • Eyebrow-lift,
  • Lower blepharoplasty (lower eye lift),
  • Upper blepharoplasty (upper eye lift),
  • Neck-lift,
  • Rhytidectomy (face-lift).

Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with their pre-surgery ratings.

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photosPreoperative and postoperative photographs of 30 women exhibiting “well-matched neutral facial expressions” were split into 6 groups, each with 5 preoperative and 5 postoperative photographs of different participants.

Steven Davison

Steven Davison

At least 24 raters, unaware that participants had plastic surgery procedures, evaluated each photograph on a 7-point scale for:

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Extroversion,
  • Likeability,
  • Risk-seeking,
  • Social skills,
  • Trustworthiness,
  • Attractiveness.

Reilly’s team noted that these surgical procedures provided cosmetic improvements to two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions: eyes and mouth.

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2They concluded that:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness which may explain why, in our patient population, patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had a trend toward improved trustworthiness as well.”

“The corner of the mouth is the diagnostic region for both happy and surprised expressions and plays an important role in the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.
“A subtle upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.
“This appearance may explain why patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.”

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

These results validate empirical findings that people make trait inferences based on facial appearance and structural resemblance to standard emotional expressions, described by University of San Francisco’s Paul Ekman.

Volunteers attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they detected a resemblance to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento in their study applying a Bayesian network classifier trained to detect emotional expressions in facial images.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces perceived as positive resemble typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resemble facial displays of disgust and fear.
Faces viewed as threatening resemble facial expressions of anger.

Trait inferences result from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems, which typically extract accurate information about a person’s emotional state.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

However, faces that bear subtle resemblance to emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.
These judgments can change for the better when a person’s appearance changes after plastic surgery.

-*To what extent do people’s personality traits seems different following plastic surgery?

-*How often are people treated differently following plastic surgery?

*What are ways to avoid confusing emotional expressions with personality traits?

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Detecting Trustworthiness, Opening Your Mind?

Yaacov Schul

Yaacov Schul

-*Does mistrust increases willingness to consider new information, or “open-mindedness”?

When people mistrust information, they are more likely to consider alternative information and interpretations,  according to Hebrew University’s Yaacov Schul and Ruth Mayo, with Eugene Burnstein of University of Michigan.

Ruth Mayo

Ruth Mayo

Likewise, Ann-Christin Posten and Thomas Mussweiler of Universität zu Köln noted that “distrust frees your mind” by leading people to use non-routine cognitive strategies.”

Eugene Burnstein

Eugene Burnstein

Posten and Mussweiler reported that when volunteers participated in an “untrustworthy” interaction, they later provided less stereotypic evaluations of others in an unrelated task.

Ann-Christin Posten

Ann-Christin Posten

The research team replicated this effect when they influence volunteers’ expectations of others by “priming” participants with preliminary information that elicited stereotypes.

When people distrust information and interactions, they focus on dissimilarities and discrepancies,  which enables people to more carefully attend to individual differences that disprove stereotypes, according to Posten and Mussweiler.

Thomas Mussweiler

Thomas Mussweiler

Although trust may feel better, distrust can lead to more mindful observation, and reduced stereotyping.

-*How do people determine trustworthiness?

Princeton’s Alexander Todorov and Sean G. Baron with Nikolaas Oosterhof of Dartmouth presented volunteers computer model-generated faces  representing a range of trustworthiness while participants’ brains were scanned with fMRI.

Alexander Todorov

Alexander Todorov

Specific brain areas, the right amygdala and left and right putamen, became more active when participants’ viewed less trustworthy faces.

Sean Baron

Sean Baron

Faces judged most trustworthy and most untrustworthy faces were associated with greater brain activity in the left amygdala.
In contrast, moderately trustworthy faces evoked strongest responses in the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus areas.

Nikolaas Oosterhof

Nikolaas Oosterhof

These findings pinpoint brain areas that lead to inferences of trust and distrust, and lead to relaxed or vigilant information processing strategies.

-*How do you determine trustworthiness for information and for people?
-*What helps you minimized stereotyped judgments?

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Body Language Conveys Emotions more Intelligibly than Facial Expressions

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

Numerous studies, pioneered by Paul Ekman of University of California, San Francisco, argue that facial expressions provide an accurate, consistent, universal “tell” to underlying emotions.

However, body language more accurately conveys intense emotions than facial Ekman Emotion Stock photoexpressions, according to Hebrew University’s Hillel Aviezer,Yaacov Trope of NYU, and Princeton University’s Alexander Todorov.

Three groups of 15 people judged intense emotions, including pain, pleasure, victory, defeat, grief and joy, portrayed in stock photographs of:

  • facial expressions alone or
  • body language alone or
  • both facial and body expressions.
Hillel Aviezer

Hillel Aviezer

Volunteers assigned more accurate inferences of pictured emotion based on body language, alone or combined with facial expressions, than judgments based on facial context alone.

These results challenge presumption that the face best communicates feeling, yet most participants believe that they rely on facial expression was their most important cue in making inferences.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

More than half the volunteers reported that they use facial expression to judge underlying emotions, a bias labeled “illusory facial affect” by Aviezer and team.

Some participants did not view the photos, but heard a description of the content.
The vast majority – 80 percent – said they “would” rely solely on the face when determining the emotion.
The remainder said they would consider the face and body together, yet not one participant indicated that body language alone would be the most important guide to emotion.

Alexander Todorov

Alexander Todorov

Another experiment presented volunteers with altered photos that combined one intense emotional expressed in the face with an opposing “peak” emotion portrayed by the body language.
Volunteers more often judged the emotion associated with the body, although they thought that facial expression was more indicative of underlying emotional experience.

A different condition demonstrated that most participants provided inaccurate judgments of six emotional states portrayed by faces alone:  They judged positive facial expressions as negative more frequently than the actual negative expressions.

Aviezer, Trope, and Todorov argue that facial expressions can be ambiguous and subjective when viewed without the context of body, particularly during intense emotional expressions.

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt of University of Otago explained Team Aviezer’s findings by noting “…bodily context is the expression of emotion…the face reveals a general intensity of feeling but doesn’t communicate what the person is feeling exactly. The body is where the valid information comes from during intense feelings.”

Piotr Winkielman

Piotr Winkielman

His expertise is based on earlier research with University of California at San Diego’s Piotr Winkielman, Paula Niedenthal of University of Wisconsin and University of Clermont-Ferrand’s Nathalie Dalle.
They demonstrated the important role of expectancy in reading, experiencing, and recalling emotions expressed by ambiguous facial photographs.

Paula Niedenthal

Paula Niedenthal

Halberstadt’s team used electromyography (EMG) to evaluate volunteers’ muscle mimicry responses and memory of photos portraying ambiguous faces when associated with emotion labels like “angry” or “happy”, and when the same photos were presented without labels.

Nathalie Dalle

Nathalie Dalle

Participants displayed more EMG activity associated with smiling when they viewed faces labeled “happy” than “angry,” and remembered faces labeled “happy” as happier than faced coded “angry” even though the photographed expressions were ambiguous.

When participants spontaneously mimicked emotions labeled with a specific affect label, they were more likely to remember this emotion.
Since the photos were ambiguous, this recall represents memory bias, based on expecting, then mirroring an expected emotion. 

SPOT-Dept Homeland SecBody language’s greater accuracy than facial expression as a measure of emotion, has important implications for mission critical interrogation and security-screening techniques.

One example is the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which was based on Ekman’s facial expression research, but did not account for bodily expression as an indicator of underlying emotion.

Team Aviezer’s findings argue that emotion-screening procedures, as well as everyday workplace interactions, should evaluate both cues from both the body and the face to form most accurate judgments of others’ likely emotional states.  

-*Which cues do you find most helpful in judging other people’s emotional states when interacting with them?

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