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Summer Science Exhibition 2004

Should we judge a book by its cover









The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG


How do these faces differ?

Ms Lynda Boothroyd, Ms R Elisabeth Cornwell, Mr David R Feinberg, Mr Benedict C Jones, Ms Miriam J Law-Smith, Ms Fhionna R Moore, Professor David I Perrett.
University of St Andrews.

Dr Lisa M DeBruine.
McMaster University.

The moment we meet someone new, we are making judgements about trust and even romantic interest within seconds. What influences these decisions has been the focus of the Perception Laboratory research team at the University of St Andrews. Their research not only examines the subtle cues that influence our judgements, but the importance of 'first impressions' and whether they are accurate.

It appears that the character attributions we make are not arbitrary but are heavily influenced by how a person looks and sounds. Specific visual and vocal cues drive social attributions made by both adults and children, and these may remain constant from infancy to the grave. These visual cues include skin condition or facial characteristics such as the symmetry of the face, while vocal cues include the pitch of the voice and the size of the vocal tract.

By manipulating face images and voice using sophisticated computer manipulations, it is possible to demonstrate how slight changes affect important social judgements on a variety of attributions including: honesty, dominance, friendliness, extraversion, health, intelligence, and even fidelity. For example, lowering the voice pitch and increasing resonance enhances the apparent size, age and attractiveness of a male speaker. Colour distribution in the face affects age and health appearances, while amplifying masculine facial characteristics increases apparent dominance and decreases perceived fidelity.

The consequences of individual perceptions and attributions affect us in everyday life. How might our judgements affect how others are treated, and how stable are they throughout our lifetime? How might facial characteristics influence whether a child is bullied or accepted? Are people's first impressions at all accurate? In other words, do these judgements reflect a real 'grain of truth' for some attributions, such as an extravert nature, good health or fidelity? For example, evidence suggests a healthy lifestyle correlates with a healthier looking face, and the faces of people reporting an extravert personality are more likely to be judged as an extravert.

'You can manipulate your own facial or voice characteristics, using systems developed by our lab', says David Perrett. 'This will alter the first impressions you make with others.

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Should we judge a book by its cover The Royal Society, London 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK