The Science of Facial Profiling

Science has been studying “personality identification through zero acquaintance”, and they are finding that people can look at a picture of someone and make accurate logical deductions. Malcolm Gladwell talked about it in his book Blink, and called it “thin slicing”.  See a list of research articles below.

Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan of the University of San Francisco, who identified Renee, and studied 15,000 people over 25 years, talked about it:

Our [experts] are extraordinarily attuned to detecting the nuances of facial expressions, body language and ways of talking and thinking. Some of them can observe a videotape for a few seconds and amazingly they can describe eight details about the person on the tape…They seem to have templates of people that they use to make sense of the behavioral deviations they observe. So it is not a set of disembodied cues, but embedded behaviors that are consistent with each other as well as with the kind of person exhibiting them.

Renee believes her ability to profile a personality from a face is part of her core ability to spot lies as well. She baselines people’s personality before they ever say a word.

Can Renee help you profile a prospective client, customer, jury, team, employee, or partner?

Research on Facial Profiling


Facial structure predicts goals, fouls among World Cup soccer players

University of Colorado at Boulder, November 12, 2014

The structure of a soccer player’s face can predict his performance on the field — including his likelihood of scoring goals, making assists and committing fouls — according to a new study.

Personality and behavioral outcomes associated with risk-taking are accurate

Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (2012) 760–764


Growing evidence suggests that people are able to accurately infer some personality traits and behavioral outcomes from facial photographs. However, little research has examined whether people are able to accurately infer personality traits or behavioral outcomes associated with risk-taking. In this study, we examined whether people were able to accurately infer, on average, others’ personality traits associated with risk-taking from facial photographs. We further examined whether such first impressions were associated with relevant and important behavioral outcomes—specifically, future discounting and gambling and problem gambling tendencies. Results suggest that people are able to accurately infer, on average, some personality traits and behavioral outcomes associated with risk-taking from faces.

The Accuracy of Inferences About Criminality Based On Facial Appearance

Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology – 2011, 5(1), 66-91.


A growing body of evidence suggests that rapid, yet accurate, dispositional inferences can be made after minimal exposure to the physical appearance of others. In this study, we explore the accuracy of inferences regarding criminality made after brief exposure to static images of convicted criminals’ and non-criminals’ faces. We begin with a background of research and theory on the curiously recurrent, and historically controversial, topic of appearance-based inferences of criminality, and a brief justification of our re-opening of the debate about the accuracy of appearance-based criminality judgments. We then report two experiments in which participants, given a set of headshots of criminals and non-criminals, were able to reliably distinguish between these two groups, after controlling for the gender, race, age, attractiveness, and emotional displays, as well as any potential clues of picture origin.

Article on this research here»

The relationship between facial structure and personality characteristics

British Journal of Social Psychology (BJSP)


A variety of findings in the fields of constitutional personality theory, person perception, emotion, and orthodontic dentistry suggest there may be a relationship between personality dimensions and facial structure. Twenty subjects with long, angular faces and 20 subjects with short, square faces were selected on the basis of a radiographic study of their facial structure. The subjects completed a biographical data sheet and took Forms A and B of the 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire. Subjects with long, angular faces were found to be more responsive, assertive, and genuine than subjects with short, square faces who were more restrained, conforming, and shrewd. The results of the study were compared with findings in the somatotype literature linking body size and shape with personality traits. The role of genetic factors underlying facial structure and personality attributes, the development of behavior patterns based on social stereotypes about facial shape, and the effect of postural sets on facial form during maturation were discussed. Suggestions were made for further research utilizing EMG recordings and developmental observations.

Convergence of Stranger Ratings of Personality and Intelligence With Self-Ratings, Partner Ratings, and Measured Intelligence

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


There have been various studies that have reported converging evidence concerning self-stranger agreement for personality traits to the effect that self-stranger agreement is particularly strong for extraversion and conscientiousness. The present study replicates these findings and reports evidence that this consensus reflects the above-chance accuracy of ratings by strangers rather than the effects of self-presentation only.

Using composite images to assess accuracy in personality attribution to faces

British Journal of Social Psychology (BJSP)


Several studies have demonstrated some accuracy in personality attribution using only visual appearance. Using composite images of those scoring high and low on a particular trait, the current study shows that judges perform better than chance in guessing others’ personality, particularly for the traits conscientiousness and extraversion. This study also shows that attractiveness, masculinity and age may all provide cues to assess personality accurately and that accuracy is affected by the sex of both of those judging and being judged. Individuals do perform better than chance at guessing another’s personality from only facial information, providing some support for the popular belief that it is possible to assess accurately personality from faces.

First Impressions of the Face: Predicting Success

Tufts University Abstract

The human tendency to form impressions of others is ubiquitous and consequential. Consensus, or agreement among individuals, regarding their first impressions based on the facial appearance of others can lead to the treatment of other individuals in particular ways that shape their outcomes and behaviors. For an impression to be considered accurate it must not only be consensual but must also show correspondence to an external criterion, such as whether impressions of individuals’ leadership ability are related to the performance of their group or organization. Many of our first impressions may not have valid external criteria to enable an assessment of the accuracy of the impression. Yet, whether our impressions are accurate or merely consensual, they can still often predict important outcomes. A limited but growing literature has shown that our impressions can be both consensual and predictive despite important social and perceptual distinctions, such as differences in culture.

How High Is Your Personal Intelligence (PI)? — Personality Intelligence

Article by John D. Mayer, Ph.D.

Excerpt:  “People high in personal intelligence are able to understand personalities—their own and those of other people. They recognize clues about other people, form models of people that are relatively accurate, make choices taking into account their own and other people’s personalities, and set reasonable goals. The key distinguishing feature of these individuals is their ability to solve problems related to understanding personality. These adept thinkers possess “abilities by definition”—and that is the key to identifying them…”

Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance

Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2009


In forming first impressions, little research has examined the accuracy of personality impressions based on appearance alone. This study examined the accuracy of observers’ impressions on 10 personality traits based on full-body photographs using criterion measures based on self and peer reports. When targets’ posture and expression were constrained (standardized condition), observers’ judgments were accurate for extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity. When targets were photographed with a spontaneous pose and facial expression (spontaneous condition), observers’ judgments were accurate for almost all of the traits examined. Lens model analyses demonstrated that both static cues (e.g., clothing style) and dynamic cues (e.g., facial expression, posture) offered valuable personality-relevant information. These results suggest that personality is manifested through both static and expressive channels of appearance, and observers use this information to form accurate judgments for a variety of traits.

Study: Strangers can spot ‘kindness’ gene


People with a certain gene trait are known to be more kind and caring than people without it, and strangers can quickly tell the difference, according to US research published on Monday…In most cases, the observers were able to tell which of the listeners had the “kindness gene” and which ones did not, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences edition of November 14 [2011]. Oregon State University

Angry Faces: Facial Structure Linked To Aggressive Tendencies, Study Suggests

Psychological Science, 2009 Article Recap by Science


Facial width-to-height ratio is a sexually dimorphic metric that is independent of body size and may have been shaped by sexual selection. We recently showed that this metric is correlated with behavioral aggression in men. In Study 1, observers estimated the propensity for aggression of men photographed displaying neutral facial expressions and for whom a behavioral measure of aggression was obtained. The estimates were correlated strongly with the facial width-to-height ratio of the stimulus faces and with the actual aggression of the men. These results were replicated in Study 2, in which the exposure to each stimulus face was shortened to 39 ms. Participants’ estimates of aggression for each stimulus face were highly correlated between Study 2 (39-ms exposure) and Study 1 (2,000-ms exposure). These findings suggest that the facial width-to-height ratio may be a cue used to predict propensity for aggression in others.

Portrait of a narcissist: Manifestations of narcissism in physical appearance

Journal of Research in Personality


Narcissism is characterized in part by an acute concern for one’s appearance. Despite this fundamental aspect of narcissism, little is known about whether narcissism is manifested in features of physical appearance. Can you tell if someone is narcissistic just by looking at them? Our results indicate that snap judgments of narcissism based on full-body photographs are at least as accurate as snap judgments of any of the big five personality traits. Narcissists are more likely to wear expensive, flashy clothing, have an organized, neat appearance requiring a lot of preparation, and (in females) wear makeup and show cleavage. Furthermore, observers’ judgments correlate with the presence of these cues, suggesting that they are drawing on the correct information when making their judgments. Finally, observers’ judgments are associated with three of the four facets of narcissism and capture the unique constellation of personality traits typical of narcissists (i.e., high extraversion and low agreeableness). These findings suggest that physical appearance reflects narcissists’ personality, preoccupation with good looks, and desire to be the center of attention, and serves as a vehicle with which to promote their status.

Facial profiling: New study shows facial structure can reveal personality


We’ve all heard of racial profiling, but what about facial profiling? It may sound silly, but new research from a team of Brock University psychologists suggests that we subconsciously ascertain possible aggression in others based on their facial structure. The findings, published recently in Psychological Science, show that face shape–specifically a measurement called facial width-to-height ratio (WHR)–may influence the instant judgments we make about others. Not only that, but the Brock University study demonstrates that these automatic predictions can be remarkably accurate…

The Roles of Featural and Configural Face Processing in Snap Judgments of Sexual Orientation


Research has shown that people are able to judge sexual orientation from faces with above-chance accuracy, but little is known about how these judgments are formed. Here, we investigated the importance of well-established face processing mechanisms in such judgments: featural processing (e.g., an eye) and configural processing (e.g., spatial distance between eyes). Participants judged sexual orientation from faces presented for 50 milliseconds either upright, which recruits both configural and featural processing, or upside-down, when configural processing is strongly impaired and featural processing remains relatively intact. Although participants judged women’s and men’s sexual orientation with above-chance accuracy for upright faces and for upside-down faces, accuracy for upside-down faces was significantly reduced. The reduced judgment accuracy for upside-down faces indicates that configural face processing significantly contributes to accurate snap judgments of sexual orientation.

Blog discussing research:

Reading men’s faces: women’s mate attractiveness judgments track men’s testosterone and interest in infants

Proceedings of the Royal Society, Proc Biol Sci> v.273(1598); Sep 7, 2006


This study investigated whether women track possible cues of paternal and genetic quality in men’s faces and then map perception of those cues onto mate attractiveness judgments. Men’s testosterone concentrations served as a proxy for genetic quality given evidence that this hormone signals immunocompetence, and men’s scores on an interest in infants test were chosen as prima facie markers of paternal quality. Women’s perceptions of facial photographs of these men were in fact sensitive to these two variables: men’s scores on the interest in infants test significantly predicted women’s ratings of the photos for how much the men like children, and men’s testosterone concentrations significantly predicted women’s ratings of the men’s faces for masculinity. Furthermore, men’s actual and perceived affinity for children predicted women’s long-term mate attractiveness judgments, while men’s testosterone and perceived masculinity predicted women’s short-term mate attractiveness judgments. These results suggest that women can detect facial cues of men’s hormone concentrations and affinity for children, and that women use perception of these cues to form mate attractiveness judgments.

Article on this research here.

Altruists are trusted based on non-verbal cues

Biology Letters, Biol Lett> v.5(6); Dec 23, 2009


The identification of altruists based on non-verbal cues might offer a solution to the problem of subtle cheating. Previous studies have indicated that the ability to discriminate altruists from non-altruists emerges during evolution. However, behavioural differences with regard to social exchanges involving altruists and non-altruists have not been studied. We investigated differences in responses to videotaped altruists and non-altruists with the Faith Game. Participants tended to entrust real money to altruists more than to non-altruists, providing strong evidence that cognitive adaptations evolve as counter-strategies to subtle cheating.

Article on this research here.

Vowel Sounds Give Cues to Sexual Orientation

Ohio State University


In a series of experiments, Tracy and colleague Nicholas P. Satariano had seven gay and seven heterosexual males record a list of monosyllabic words, such as “mass,” “food,” and “sell”; Listeners were then asked to identify the sexual orientation of the speakers when played those entire words, the first two letter sounds (say, “ma”), or just the first letter sound (“m”). Although they couldn’t accurately guess the sexual orientation of the speaker with just the first letter sound, “when presented with the first two letter sounds, listeners were 75 percent accurate,” says Tracy.


Can intuition improve deception detection performance?
University of Texas at El Paso


Two studies examined the role of processing style (intuitive vs. deliberative processing) in a deception detection task. In the first experiment, a thin slicing manipulation was used to demonstrate that intuitive processing can lead to more accurate judgments of deception when compared with traditional deliberative forms of processing. In the second experiment, participants who engaged in a secondary (concurrent) task performed more accurately in a deception detection task than participants who were asked to provide a verbal rationale for each decision and those in a control condition. Overall, the results converge to suggest that intuitive processing can significantly improve deception detection performance.