Biologically speaking, humans innately use face reading and personality assessment techniques.
Academic interest in the topic, however, fluctuates.
But every couple of centuries, someone relights the physiognomy flame.
Which is where we now find ourselves.
Some folks balk at the practice, deeming it pseudo-scientific.
But recent research suggests there may be a verifiable, biological link between facial features and personality.
So today, we're unpacking the facts and attempting to answer the question: Can you read someone's personality by their face?
- What Is Face Reading?
- It’s All in the Muscles
- What Is Your Face Personality?
- What Are the Types of Face Personalities?
- Face Reading: How to Read Faces To Understand Personality
- How to Use Face Reading in Your Life
What Is Face Reading?
Fundamentally, face reading is a human instinct.
Within hours of entering the world, we learn to recognize the face of the person who birthed us; it's a survival instinct.
The ancient Romans were the first to organize feature-based character assessment into a field of scientific inquiry called “physiognomy” — sometimes called “personology.”
The Greek philosopher Aristotle is credited with writing the first tome on the subject entitled “Physiognomonica,” which Leonardo da Vinci slammed as “without scientific foundation.”
To be fair, Leonardo was probably right about Aristotle's ideas.
They weren't his best. But hey, what do you expect from a guy who didn't know the Earth rotated around the sun?
De Vinci, however, may have had more respect for Charles Darwin's physiognomy assertions, which came a few hundred years later and were rooted in slightly more sound scientific ground.
The 19th-century naturalist theorized that humans and animals share emotional expressions, noting that nearly all species raise their eyebrows to express surprise.
In “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” Darwin also affirms that humans around the globe share core expressions, like fear, anger, and disgust.
It’s All in the Muscles
Recent research suggests that there may be a physiological link between facial features and personality, not because of some fated, evolutionary gene combination, but because of the face's 43 muscles.
The theory goes that muscles most often used to express ourselves are the most developed, which affects their appearance and provides insight into personality traits.
Researchers in the niche are encouraged by recent study results, as they reflect both ends of the developmental and socialization process: nature and nurture.
What Is Your Face Personality?
Quick, what shape is your face?
Most people would instinctively say, “round!” But in truth, round faces are exceptionally rare.
Most people have oval-, diamond-, square-, rectangular-, or heart-shaped visages.
What's even more interesting is that some evidence suggests that the shape of your face may provide clues to your personality.
Jean Haner, a face-reading expert who authored “The Wisdom of Your Face,” says it reveals “your basic personality and your overall approach to life.”
Haner is also quick to point out that most people have a mix of face shapes, but one dominates.
So what do the shapes say about you? What is your facial personality? Here's a rough guide.
|Potential Personality Traits
|Pointed at the chin and forehead, wide in the middle
|Good communicator, natural leader, Midas touch, detail-oriented, can be biting
|Face is more long than wide, the jaw is narrower than the cheekbones
|Overachievers, methodical, practical, great communicators can stretch the truth
|Wide forehead, strong jawline
|High-energy, project-oriented, witty, analytical, calm leaders
|Wide forehead, narrow chin
|Creative, sweet, intuitive, pushy, energetic
|Narrow forehead, wide jawline
|Artistic, sensitive, fiery, successful, determined
|Long, squared at forehead and chin
|Intelligent, planners, strategic, tense
What Are the Types of Face Personalities?
Nearly everyone is a genetic mutt (as opposed to a Targaryen- or Hapsburg-type), so our faces convey a mix of traits.
Just as no two zebras have the same stripes, no two humans have identical face personalities (even twins and multiples).
However, new research strongly suggests that facial features may be more illusory than previously believed.
But understanding the new scientific line of inquiry into physiognomy test methods requires some basic knowledge about the intersection of biology and psychology as it relates to personality expression.
To that end, we've compiled a list of broad strokes.
- Psychologists generally use two personality frameworks to assess individuals for macro analysis: the Myers-Briggs taxonomy (MBTI) and the Big Five method (OCEAN).
- The Myers-Briggs system focuses on four foul pairings: introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and judging and perceiving. People are slotted into one or the other for each pairing.
- The Big Five model, also known as the OCEAN personality paradigm, rates personalities on a five-metric scale: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. FYI, the Big Five is currently the most accepted and applied system used to assess personality types for macro research purposes.
An encouraging Australian study exploring links between facial features and behavior patterns recorded participants' reactions to composites of face personalities.
Here's how it worked:
- First, the research team had a group of subjects take personality tests measuring their Myers-Briggs and Big Five personality scores.
- Next, the researchers made computer-generated face models of people from different categories. For example, they made a composite face for extraversion, introversion, agreeableness, et cetera.
- Researchers then asked the second group of participants questions about the composite faces in relation to personality types. For example: Which face looks the most open? Which looks the friendliest? Of these composite faces, which appear the most confident?
- Ultimately, participants were great at determining which males were extraverted and intuitive and which females were extroverted.
The overarching question researchers are now considering is the chicken-and-egg factor.
To wit, do people with similar personalities have comparable facial features because they use the same muscles more often or because of a genetic phenomenon?
Do people treat and see us a certain way because of our aesthetic traits? Or do we develop certain features through extensive facial muscle use?
Face Reading: How to Read Faces To Understand Personality
We cannot stress enough how face reading should only be used as a general guide. Face reading is far from an exact science, and when misapplied can lead to unfair, unfounded, and dangerous assumptions.
But if you keep it light, face reading can be a lot of fun and, in some cases, may provide a bit of insight into people's personalities.
So how do you do it? Let's take a look.
What's in the Eyes? A Lot.
Paying attention to a person's eyes can reveal a lot. Arguably, they're the most expressive facial feature. To read a person's face, keep an eye out for the following:
- Dilated Pupils: In certain situations, dilated pupils speak volumes. If you're in a well-lit space and someone's pupils change size, it may provide insight into their thinking. They shrink in the sight of negative or objectionable things and grow when they land on something pleasing. But remember that light also affects the eyes. For example, our pupils automatically dilate when light lowers. So try not to mistake a change in atmosphere for facial clues.
- Distance Between Eyes: Studies suggest that the distance between a person's eyes reveals their capacity for tolerance. Folks with wider-set eyes are believed to be more accepting of errors than those with eyes set closer together.
- Size of Eyelid Folds: Physiognomy wisdom says people with thicker eyelid folds are more analytical than those with thinner ones.
- Eye-Color Saturation: Regardless of color, people with deeper-hued eyes (navy blue, dark brown) are allegedly more charismatic.
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What Do Lips Say About a Person?
What do lips say about a person? It's not about their shape or size but how they're used.
For example, pursed lips usually indicate disapproval, whereas puckered lips signal desire. Also, a liar's lips may twitch.
According to the Australian study, people with full lips may be more talkative than those with thinner ones.
We question this assertion, though, as implicit assumptions about people with certain features can also inform this conclusion.
Is the Philtrum the Humor Rosetta Stone?
First things first: What the heck is a philtrum? It's the oval-shaped indent between your nose and upper lip.
According to some face readers, a long one indicates a dry, sarcastic wit; a short one may signal that a person has a short fuse or is hyper-sensitive. We're not sure about this, but the study's results say otherwise.
And some in the scientific community also have their doubts. But who knows, it could very well be true — a fact people take for granted 100 years from now.
Does Your Nose Say Anything About You?
Noses are front and center. As a prominent facial feature, they can reveal a lot.
For example, flared nostrils may be a sign that someone is experiencing displeasure or anger, and a wrinkled nose could be a reaction to something unpleasant.
Do you think a person is lying to your face? Their nose may give a clue. They could be fibbing if it dilates, which makes the nose appear swollen and red.
Eyebrows: An Emotional Window?
Eyebrows are a highly visible part of the face, yet they don't pull focus. We register them in our subconscious but can't necessarily pinpoint them as a factor in how we interpret another person's reaction.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. But generally speaking, eyebrows are a sideshow, not the main event.
Learning to read some common eyebrow indicators can be helpful when reading expressions.
Watch out for:
- Raised: When someone raises their eyebrows and wrinkles their forehead, they're likely surprised or questioning something.
- Sloped Inward: Eyebrows sloped inward suggest anger and frustration. Someone whose eyebrows appear permanently stuck in said position may exist in a perpetually peeved state — (or just look like they do). Similarly, intense concentration may also be the cause of this facial configuration.
- Darwin's Grief Muscles: Charles Darwin identified two muscle groupings that play a significant role in expressing grief: the corrugator supercilii, found deep near the medial end of each eyebrow, and depressor anguli oris muscles, which originates at the mandible and extends into the mouth's angle. If these two muscle groups are more developed than normal, it may indicate that the individual has suffered significant pain in their life.
Researchers in Australia also theorize that people with higher eyebrows have stronger muscles in their upper faces.
According to the theory, high-eyebrowed subjects frequently make surprised expressions, indicating that they prefer more personal space and are less friendly. It's a jump, but it's plausible.
Facial Size and Confidence
Some research data indicates that face size may indicate self-confidence.
According to the Australian study group, people whose cranial configurations are less than 60% as wide as they are long may be less confident than those whose faces are 70% wide as they are long.
How to Use Face Reading in Your Life
The first thing to understand about face reading is that it isn't fortune telling. Instead, it's just another tool that may help you communicate better with more people.
When applied fairly and sparingly, you may also use face reading, in conjunction with other proven methods, to:
- Help guide people toward careers that best suits their personalities
- Get individuals to open up and share their feelings
- De-escalate tense situations by reading people's emotions and talking them down
- Figure out what a date may be thinking
Face reading is a fun way to guess a stranger's personality traits.
And while it can be helpful in professional and prescribed scenarios, it's still a young area of inquiry, and practitioners should be cautious about crossing the phrenology line.