Can you tell Nobel Peace Prize winners from America’s Most Wanted just by their faces?

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People’s guesses were generally better than random chance. Nobel Prize winners could often be detected after seeing a picture for 100 milliseconds. Distinguishing who was one of America’s Most Wanted took a little longer:

Although trustworthiness judgments based on a stranger’s face occur rapidly (Willis & Todorov, 2006), their accuracy is unknown. We examined the accuracy of trustworthiness judgments of the faces of 2 groups differing in trustworthiness (Nobel Peace Prize recipients/humanitarians vs. America’s Most Wanted criminals). Participants viewed 34 faces each for 100 ms or 30 s and rated their trustworthiness. Subsequently, participants were informed about the nature of the 2 groups and estimated group membership for each face. Judgments formed with extremely brief exposure were similar in accuracy and confidence to those formed after a long exposure. However, initial judgments of untrustworthy (criminals’) faces were less accurate (M=48.8%) than were those of trustworthy faces (M=62.7%). Judgment accuracy was above chance for trustworthy targets only at Time 1 and slightly above chance for both target types at Time 2. Participants relied on perceived kindness and aggressiveness to inform their rapidly formed intuitive decisions. Thus, intuition plays a minor facilitative role in reading faces.

Source: “Is the face a window to the soul? Investigation of the accuracy of intuitive judgments of the trustworthiness of human faces.” from Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, Vol 40(3), Jul 2008, 171-177.

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