The Human Face

Last updated: 28 June 2011

This week, Adam comes face-to-face with the face researchers at Bangor University's Psychology Department.

Composite Faces for Extroversion and Introversion

How good are we at drawing accurate conclusions about other people just from their face? And how much do we give away about our own personalities, even when we adopt a neutral expression? Psychologists from Bangor University have been exploring what our faces reveal about our personalities and our general health.

In this week's programme Adam meets Dr. Robert Ward. He devised an experiment in which he photographed the faces of 65 women (asking them to adopt a neutral expression) and gave each of them a questionaire about their personality. Then, based on their answers, he created composite photographs of the fifteen women who exhibited particular personality traits most strongly and least strongly. He showed these images to a series of experimental subjects to see if they could tell which was which. And for many traits they could! The two photos at the top of the page show the composite photos for the most extrovert and least extrovert women - can you tell which is which? (Answer below)

Robin Kramer has extended this work into chimpanzee faces. He asked subjects to look at photos of individual chimps at Colwyn Bay Zoo and then decide which chimps were older or younger, what sex they were, which ones were more dominant and which more clever. As with human faces, he found that people were very good at working out which chimps had particular personality traits. From the photos below, can you decide which of these two chimps is the most dominant? (Again, answer at the bottom of the page)

Chimps at Colwyn Bay Zoo

Adam also meets Jo Mason who's researching prosopagnosia. This is a condition where the patient can't recognise faces, even those of people they know well. In some cases prosopagnosia is 'acquired', appearing after a virus, stroke or brain injury. But it is also congenital and it's estimated that around 2.5% of people suffer from prosopagnosia, with many of them not even aware that they have it.

Finally today, we meet Ph.D student Danielle Shore and her supervisor Dr. Erin Heerey. Danielle has been researching the way that human beings value a 'genuine' smile - which involves the eyes as well as the mouth - more than a 'polite' smile.

Danielle devised a game against computerised 'opponents' which involved matching pennies, heads or tails. The different opponents gave greater or lesser chances of winning money but the key thing was that some opponents gave a genuine smile while others just gave a polite smile. Danielle discovered that, when given a choice, people preferred to play the opponents who gave a genuine rather than a polite smile, even if they were less likely to win money by playing that opponent. So, a smile doesn't just have an emotional value - it can have an ecomomic value too!

Answers: The woman on the right is more extrovert. And the chimp on the right is more dominant.


Bangor University Psychology Department

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