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Personalities judged by appearance alone in study

Dec. 11, 2009
Courtesy SAGE Publications
and World Science staff

They say nev­er to judge a book by its cov­er. But some as­pects of a stran­ger’s per­son­al­ity can ap­par­ently be gleaned from a pho­to, if a new study is to be be­lieved.

Par­ti­ci­pants in the re­search were found to be able to ac­cu­rately judge a stranger’s self-es­teem, ex­tra­ver­sion and re­li­gios­ity, from pho­tographs alone.

The re­search ap­pears in the cur­rent is­sue of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy Bul­le­tin, the monthly jour­nal of the So­ci­e­ty for Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy. 

Sci­en­tists asked par­ti­ci­pants to as­sess the per­son­al­i­ties of strangers based first on a pho­to posed to the re­search­ers’ spe­cif­ica­t­ions and then on a pho­to posed the way the sub­ject chose. 

Those judg­ments were then com­pared with how the per­son and ac­quain­tances rat­ed that in­di­vid­u­al’s per­son­al­ity. They found that while both poses pro­vid­ed par­ti­ci­pants with ac­cu­rate cues about per­son­al­ity, the spon­ta­ne­ous pose showed more in­sight, in­clud­ing about the sub­ject’s agreea­bleness, emo­tion­al sta­bil­ity, open­ness, lik­a­bil­ity, and lone­li­ness.

“Phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance serves as a chan­nel through which per­son­al­ity is man­i­fest­ed,” wrote the au­thors, Lau­ra P. Nau­mann of the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, and col­leagues. “By us­ing full-body pho­tographs and ex­am­in­ing a broad range of traits, we iden­ti­fied do­mains of ac­cu­ra­cy that have been over­looked.”


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They say never to judge a book by its cover. But some aspects of a stranger’s personality can apparently be gleaned from a photo, if a new study is to be believed. Participants in the research were found to be able to accurately judge a stranger’s self-esteem, extraversion and religiosity, from photographs alone. The research appears in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the monthly journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Scientists asked participants to assess the personalities of strangers based first on a photograph posed to the researchers’ specifications and then on a photograph posed the way the subject chose. Those judgments were then compared with how the person and acquaintances rated that individual’s personality. They found that while both poses provided participants with accurate cues about personality, the spontaneous pose showed more insight, including about the subject’s agreeableness, emotional stability, openness, likability, and loneliness. The study suggested that physical appearance alone can send signals about their true personality. “As we predicted, physical appearance serves as a channel through which personality is manifested,” wrote the authors, Laura P. Naumann of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues. “By using full-body photographs and examining a broad range of traits, we identified domains of accuracy that have been overlooked, leading to the conclusion that physical appearance may play a more important role in personality judgment than previously thought.”