Dating would be so much easier if we could just take one look at someone’s face and know all of the details about his or her personality, wouldn’t it? While we may wish there was an app for that, the truth is, our brains are already doing a pretty good job. When we make snap judgments about people based on their facial shape and features, it turns out that we’re not totally off-base with those perceptions.
“People who are attractive are perceived in ways that are desirable,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, director of Advanced Facial Esthetics in Chestnut Hill, MA. “For example, a feminine look correlates with perceptions of trustworthiness.” These perceptions can then shape the person being judged so that his or her behavior actually aligns with the traits that the observer already expects. In fact, our split-second facial judgments are so accurate that a series of recent studies have shown people can correctly predict who’ll win an election merely by looking at photos of the candidates’ faces. If you’d like to brush up on your own face-reading abilities, read on…
Trait #1: Men with wider faces tend to be self-sacrificing in competitive situations
In a study published in Psychological Science conducted by psychologist Dr. Michael Stirrat and research partner David Perrett, groups of University of St. Andrews students were given money to play a game where they could either benefit themselves or risk their money to benefit their entire group. Half of the participants were told that results would be compared between St. Andrews students, while the other half were told they would be compared against students from a rival university. The researchers determined that the more robust-looking, wider-faced men in the study were more self-sacrificing than other men when they were told about the rivalry issue. This finding goes against the commonly held stereotype that more masculine-looking men are somehow less trustworthy. “What I would conclude from this,” says Stirrat, “is not that wider-faced men are necessarily more aggressive or uncooperative, but that they are more competitive — and when the competition is between ‘us and them,’ they are very good players to have on your team.”
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Trait #2: Smiles convey a person’s hormone levels
“Features of masculinity — such as a heavy brow and angular face — somewhat overlap with the facial expressions of anger,” says Patti Wood, MA, CSP, body language expert and author of the new book, SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma. “Also, facial roundness and soft features overlap with the expressions that indicate happiness, so we are more likely to see a smiling face as being ‘feminine’ and an angry face as more ‘masculine.’ It’s interesting to note that men with higher-than-average testosterone levels tend to smile less, too.”
Trait #3: Beauty correlates with a positive attitude
“A beautiful face is one that’s considered to be symmetric, youthful, and encompasses the mathematical definition of the ‘high average,” explains Dr. John Anastasatos, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, CA. “High average means that if you take a face, and to that face you add composites of other similar faces, the new face tends to be more beautiful. The more beautiful people tend to have healthier lifestyles, healthier habits and a healthier more positive look to society because known and unknown people treat them better compared to unattractive people.” In other words, beauty leads to a positive feedback loop of healthier behaviors and attitudes. However, it’s a good idea to be wary of the “halo effect” when it comes to evaluating attractive faces, warns Dr. Stirrat. “The ‘halo’ effect is when something has a good trait, we assume that its other traits are good too, such as if we look at some product in a shop and the packaging is high quality, we automatically assume that the product inside will be too. It’s the same with faces.”
Trait #4: Facial asymmetry correlates with depression
There’s a reason human beings are extremely attuned to facial symmetry — often without even realizing it. “Researchers have found correlations between symmetry and health, which lends itself to the theory that while looking for a mate, humans and other animals look for candidates who will be the most healthy and free of disease,” says Wood. “One study found that men with asymmetric faces tend to suffer more from depression, anxiety, headaches, and even stomach problems. Women with facial asymmetry are less healthy and more prone to bouts of emotional instability and depression.”
Trait #5: A person’s eyes can make someone seem trustworthy (or detail-oriented)
According to the ancient principles of Chinese face reading, larger eyes suggest that someone is open and easier to get to know, notes Simon G. Brown, author of Face Reading: Secrets of the Chinese Masters. People with larger eyes often feel comfortable revealing many aspects of their character with others, making them appear to be especially gentle, kind and accessible. This trait will make others feel they are easy to trust and more comfortable with sharing their own problems. Conversely, smaller eyes are a sign that the person is typically precise, accurate and detail-oriented.
Trait #6: Rosy cheeks aren’t as healthy as those with yellower skin tones
George Costanza was wise to look for a rosy hue — though he may have been better off looking for yellow tones in his potential dates’ cheeks. “It turns out that yellowness in the skin is related to a healthy diet,” explains Dr. Stirrat. “Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables actually turns your skin a healthy yellow (from the carotenoids), and when people rate manipulated images, they prefer those individuals that look like they consume a good diet. It’s worth noting that this is separate from other skin tones and therefore is true of your skin, regardless of whatever race you happen to belong to.”
If you’d still prefer to take your time getting to know someone after learning all these shortcuts, however, you’re on the right track. “The bottom line is that people are attracted to others who make them feel good about themselves,” says Pablo Soloman, an artist and designer living in Texas. “So, being able to express interest, respect, finding the other person attractive, etc. will be that qualities we find to be most attractive in a date. It all starts with a smile and eye contact.”