Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Women's traits 'written on face'

Two women's faces
The study used composite faces to compare self-assessed traits

A woman's personality traits may be "written all over her face", research has suggested.

The Glasgow University and New Scientist study examined whether self-assessed personality characteristics could be identified from appearance.

It claimed that women's faces were easier to read than men's faces, with greater success in matching traits.

Glasgow University's Dr Rob Jenkins said: "We did not expect there to be such a difference between the sexes."

Dr Jenkins, a specialist in the psychology of social interaction, devised the study, along with Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Jenkins said the research should pave the way for further investigations into the link between a person's character and their appearance.

"Past studies have shown that people do associate facial appearance with certain personality traits and that our snap judgements of faces really do suggest a kernel of truth about the personality of their owner," he said.

Our perception of lucky-looking male faces is at odds with reality
Dr Rob Jenkins
Glasgow University

For the study of more than 1,000 New Scientist readers, participants were asked to submit a photograph of themselves looking directly at the camera and to complete an online personality questionnaire - rating how lucky, humorous, religious and trustworthy they believed themselves to be.

From the personality self-assessments, the experts identified groups of men and women scoring at the extremes of each of the four personality dimensions.

The photographs were then blended electronically to make several composite images.

"This allowed us to calculate an average of the two faces," Dr Jenkins said. "For example, if both faces have bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes, the resulting composite would also have these features.

"We wanted to know whether people would be able to identify the personalities of the individuals behind the images.

"To find this out we paired up composites from the extreme ends of each dimension and posted them online.

"For example, the composite face from the women who had rated themselves as extremely lucky was paired with the composite from those who had rated themselves as very unlucky."

Transparent faces

More than 6,500 visitors to the site attempted to identify the lucky, humorous, religious and trustworthy faces. From this, it appeared that women's faces were more transparent, or "gave more away", than men's faces.

A total of 70% of people were able to correctly identify the lucky face and 73% correctly identified the religious one.

In line with past research, the female composite associated with trustworthiness was also accurately identified, with a 54% success rate.

Dr Rob Jenkins
The study was partly devised by Dr Rob Jenkins of Glasgow University

Only one of the female composites was not correctly identified - the one from the women who assessed themselves as humorous.

However, Dr Jenkins said none of the male composites was correctly identified.

"The images identified with being humorous, trustworthy and religious all came in around chance, whilst the lucky composite was only correctly identified 22% of the time," he said.

"This suggests that our perception of lucky-looking male faces is at odds with reality.

"If there was nothing in this at all then the score should have been 50% across the board, but it wasn't. Perhaps female faces are simply more informative than male ones."

Dr Jenkins added that other reasons to explain the findings could be that male participants were less insightful or less honest when rating their personalities, or perhaps that women were more thoughtful when selecting the photographs they submitted.

"Overall the data is fascinating," he said. "It pushes the envelope in that we are looking at subtle aspects of psychological make-up.

"It also shows that people readily associate facial appearance with certain personality traits.

"It's possible that there is some correlation between appearance and personality because both are influenced by our genetic make-up."

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