Tag Archives: visual communication

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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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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