Facing faces: studies on the cognitive aspects of physiognomy

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 May;78(5):837-52. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.78.5.837.


Physiognomy, the art of reading personality traits from faces, dates back to ancient Greece, and is still very popular. The present studies examine several aspects and consequences of the process of reading traits from faces. Using faces with neutral expressions, it is demonstrated that personality information conveyed in faces changes the interpretation of verbal information. Moreover, it is shown that physiognomic information has a consistent effect on decisions, and creates overconfidence in judgments. It is argued, however, that the process of "reading from faces" is just one side of the coin, the other side of which is "reading into faces." Consistent with the latter, information about personality changes the perception of facial features and, accordingly, the perceived similarity between faces. The implications of both processes and questions regarding their automaticity are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Physiognomy*
  • Random Allocation
  • Reproducibility of Results