First impressions, good or bad, are based on facial images and researchers have designed a model to predict which way things will go. The model was used to also reverse the analysis so that facial images could be created that optimized first impressions. The modeling recognized three factors that determined the first impression based on viewing a face.
The research team was led by Tom Hartley and was carried out in the Department of Psychology at the University of York in the United Kingdom. The study report was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ambient images of faces; that is, photographs of faces that showed people in everyday life situations, found on the web were used in the study. Facial attributes were measured objectively based on facial feature positions and colors. A database of these facial attributes was created from highly variable ambient images of faces. This data was then inputted into a “neural network” model to analyze the three factors approachability, youthful-attractiveness and dominance. These three factors were said to underlie social attributions. People were recruited into the study to act as raters of the faces in terms of first impressions.
The results from the modeling showed that the model could account for 58 percent of the variance in the raters’ impressions. Attributes of the faces were then ranked according to importance. A total of 1,000 faces were analyzed in terms of 65 different physical features such as the height of the eyes, width of the eyebrows and so on. Cartoon-type faces were generated from the results that allowed depiction of how the attributes changed along each dimension. Therefore, a quantitative model of characteristic faces related to first impressions was constructed.
The study results indicated that a substantial proportion of the variance around first impressions could be attributed to linear changes in certain defined features, even though the facial images varied widely. The shape of the jaw, mouth, eyes and cheekbones were the key three physical attributes that determined what the first impression would be. Even small changes in these physical attributes could alter the first impression judgments of approachability, youthful-attractiveness or dominance.
It is possible to use the cartoon faces produced by the model to determine how one’s face fares on the scale produced by the model. The cartoon images are available online (see sources for this article) and one can compare a given facial image with the cartoon faces to pick the best match. Another way to use the results from the study would be to consider choices of images for use on Facebook or other social network venues. Identifying the best first impression image could be assisted by using the cartoon images from the study.
First impressions based on viewing a face lead to thoughts about whether that person is friendly, trustworthy or competent, which are judgments of character. With the increasing number of ways that people can obtain images using cell phones and transmit them quickly and simply, it might be wise to be aware of the facial features that create the best first impressions.
By Margaret Lutze