Can you tell how intelligent someone is just from their facial features?
Only if they are a man, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS One (Kleisner et al., 2014).
The study finds that when judging men just on their facial appearance, there was a relationship with actual intelligence.
But when it came to women, there was no relationship between how intelligent people were perceived and how intelligent they actually were.
The authors speculate that this is because women are primarily judged on their attractiveness and this swamped any judgements about intelligence.
These predictions were in stark contrast to people’s assumptions about the connection between appearance and intelligence.
People strongly agreed on the type of face that looked intelligent, which was:
“In both sexes, a narrower face with a thinner chin and a larger prolonged nose characterizes the predicted stereotype of high-intelligence, while a rather oval and broader face with a massive chin and a smallish nose characterizes the prediction of low-intelligence.”
The three image below show what people perceive as low, average and high intelligence appearances in men and women:
The research was carried out in the Czech Republic, so these associations between facial features and perceived intelligence may be culturally specific.
But, as you’ll see from these photos, people’s perceptions of intelligence were also associated with attractiveness.
In other words, more attractive people also appear more intelligent, possibly due to the halo effect and/or possibly because there is a small association between higher attractiveness and higher actual intelligence.
Smile to look intelligent
Finally, the study found…
“…a correlation between semblances of emotions of joy or anger in perceptions of high or low intelligence in faces, respectively.
The ‘high intelligence’ faces appear to be smiling more than the ‘low intelligence’ faces. A similar pattern was described for the perception of trustworthiness.”
On the other hand:
“…low-intelligence faces are perceived as untrustworthy and considered angrier.”
In the other words: frown to look more stupid and smile to look more intelligent.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Jon Moe