New computer imaging technology helps us understand how we ‘read’ faces

30 June 2015

Women living in US states with a higher rate of illness are more likely to find masculine men attractive. People living in East Asia rely on the eyes to judge others’ facial expressions, while people living in Western cultures tend to use the whole face.

These are findings from research using new computer imaging technology that is being exhibited at the 2015 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition by researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow.

They developed these techniques to better understand why people form such strong first impressions about others’ attractiveness, health, trustworthiness and emotions simply from looking at their faces and what information in the face drives these impressions. For example, factors relating to health, wealth and industrialization are important for cross-cultural differences in the types of faces people find most attractive. These findings suggest that cultural differences in how people respond to faces are systematic, and are not simply arbitrary.

Dr Lisa DeBruine, from the University of Glasgow, said: “Darwin was right when he argued that there is no universal standard of beauty. Our work shows that people in different parts of the world are attracted to different types of faces. But our work also shows it is possible to study and, to some extent, both predict and understand these differences.”

The ‘Face Facts’ exhibit also showcases a 3D facial imaging system from Dimensional Imaging (DI4D™), which allows the researchers to identify the specific combinations of facial movements that communicate different emotions, personality traits and mental states. Using this new method, called ‘Generative Face Grammar’, the team shows that the eyes are used more often to communicate emotion in East Asian cultures, whereas the whole face is used in Western cultures.

You can learn more about the research, experience demonstrations of the technology and even transform your own face at and you can follow @facefacts2015 on Twitter to get new #facefacts.