Changing expressions to appear more trustworthy, dominant or attractive

May 16, 2014, University of Glasgow
Changing expressions to appear more trustworthy, dominant or attractive

(Medical Xpress)—If you have one of those faces that people just don't trust, fear not: according to scientists, you can pull an expression that will make you appear more honest.

Researchers have found that faces deemed to be untrustworthy, dominant or unattractive by dint of their shape, can be made to appear the opposite by making specific facial expressions.

They say this 'social camouflage' can be practised and deployed by people to mask the default social impression inferred from their face and ingratiate themselves to others in a host of situations.

Dr Daniel Gill of the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, who conducted the research, said: "Humans communicate a lot through their facial expressions when negotiating various social situations.

"But whether we like it or not, previous well-documented research has shown that people tend to perceive certain personality characteristics or traits in individuals based on the structure of their face.

"This means some people can be judged to be untrustworthy or domineering simply by how they look – a square jaw and large brow conveying dominance, for example. It can have implications for things like mate selection and job opportunities.

"However, there are also basic facial movements that people identify with specific and these movements can override the default impression people have of another person's face."

The researchers used software to generate three-dimensional animated images of faces which can be programmed to move one or more of 42 individual facial groups of muscles – or action units, as they call them – to form a facial expression.

They then asked a group of 12 volunteer observers to judge a set of randomly generated facial expressions on trustworthiness, dominance and attractiveness. This allowed the researchers to ascertain what aspects of an expression conveyed these particular characteristics.

They repeated this procedure again with a different set of volunteers, this time asking them to rate static faces with neutral expressions for the same traits, but based solely on facial morphology – or structure.

Finally, to test whether the static, neutral faces deemed to be untrustworthy, dominant or unattractive could be made to appear trustworthy, submissive and attractive, the researchers animated the second set of faces with the expressions identified with these characteristics from the first experiment.

The study revealed that faces thought to look untrustworthy could be made more honest-looking simply by activating a few muscle groups to form a more virtuous expression. Similarly, dominant could appear meeker through a different expression, however attractiveness, or ugliness, is much harder to feign.

Dr Gill added: "Furthermore, people could train themselves to look more dominant, trustworthy or attractive, although the latter is much harder as the perception of attractiveness is based on many more factors than just facial expressions – as any casting director will know.

"An actor can certainly look more dominant or trustworthy according to their role, but would probably struggle to look more attractive. For that you'd really need an attractive actor."

Professor Philippe Schyns, Director of the Institute, said: "This is the first study to examine how dynamic affect the perception of social traits or characteristics."

So if you want to look more trustworthy; activate your inner and outer brow raiser, brow lowerer, nasolabial deepener, dimpler, lip corner and cheek raiser and the sharp lip puller muscles.

The research by Dr Gill, Professor Philippe Schyns, Dr Oliver Garrod and Dr Rachael Jack is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Explore further: Study shows attractiveness of people not dependent on facial expression

Related Stories

Study shows attractiveness of people not dependent on facial expression

March 12, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the U.K.'s University of Portsmouth have conducted a study with the aim of attempting to discern if the attractiveness of a person's face is impacted by facial expression. In their paper ...

Ability to recognise expression tied to listening and emotion

January 6, 2014
West Australian researchers have developed two new tests that examine a typical person's ability to recognise basic facial expressions.

Written all over your face: Humans express four basic emotions rather than six

February 3, 2014
Human beings are emotional creatures whose state of mind can usually be observed through their facial expressions.

Determination might be a very human expression

March 6, 2014
Humans might be using facial expressions of determination as a call for help from others, according to new research.

Racial blends - easy on the eyes until you categorise

January 9, 2014
New light has been shed on how our minds judge multi-racial individuals, thanks to a collaborative research project between the University of Otago and the University of California, San Diego.

Recommended for you

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

January 17, 2018
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Can psychedelic drugs 'reconnect' depressed patients with their emotions?

January 15, 2018
Imperial research suggests psilocybin can help relieve the symptoms of depression, without the 'dulling' of emotions linked with antidepressants.

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

May 16, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet May 16, 2014
How can you trust a guy with no teeth? ;)
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2014
Untrustworthy on the left? Looks more like a psycho =/ The one on the right looks high on drugs... i trust neither facial expressions lol !

I only trust based on what people say not their appearance, even then sound logic can still fool you.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.