You cannot judge a man by his facial-width

Photo Credits Mark de Stadler

Many behavioral scientists have tried finding cues in facial expression and body language that leads to accurate descriptors of personality, but most have fallen short. A pair of researchers from Germany have just added to that statement while also highlighting an innate reciprocity in people. A two part study first involving a trust game with 108 participants in Munich, and next involving observations from 28 participants from Konstanz analyzed a green beard typecast in deciding trustworthiness of individuals.

The green beard typecast or green beard effect is a situation describing:
– If a green bearded man is in a room with others and is told he must cooperate on a task with at least one other person, he will most likely choose the other person in the room with a green beard.

More specifically, a person with certain characteristics (a wider face in this study) could be characterized as having a certain personality trait (untrustworthiness in this study). This is what was tested.

54 “first mover” participants were given the choice of either transferring all nine of their euros to one of 54 “second movers” or transferring nothing. The second movers, after learning the decision of their first mover, could then transfer an amount of euros back or not. 41 first movers trusted second movers and gave their euro endowment. In the second task, 28 raters were given the decision of the first mover and a picture of the associated second mover. They were then to guess whether or not the second mover transferred euros back or not. Only cases where the first mover trusted the second mover were analyzed.

After seeing the pictures and rating, there was no correlation between trustworthiness (giving euros back) of second mover to their facial width. Width to height ratio and trustworthiness (as marked by raters) showed correlative insignificance with P=0.472. There was also no relation between attractiveness and trustworthy rating.

The only significant indicator of choices made by raters was the choice of the first movers of whether or not to trust the second movers. Researchers hypothesized it was because raters would assume an air of reciprocity when one is trusted.

The study showed no link between facial width and trustworthiness. Maybe a book truly cannot be judged by its cover. The end-goal of this class of study is to define just how much information is needed to accurately infer personality traits of an individual. This study showed at least, cursory contact is not enough.

Charles Efferson and Sonja Vogt. 2013. Viewing men’s faces does not lead to accurate predictions of trustworthiness. Scientific Reports.


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