Can you read the personality traits on the face of another person? That is a question asked by David Perrett in his book: “In Your Face, The New Science of Human Attraction.”
Mr. Perrett runs The Perception Lab, which is based at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. The lab studies facial characteristics, and the perceptions that other people have about them.
In chapter 9 of Perrett’s book, he goes through a long and interesting history of physiognomy, which is the practice of reading faces. Physiognomy has a tendency to attract the unscientific, which in the past ascribed many negative traits to people that they didn’t like. For example, people with hooked noses were often described as ferocious. As you can expect, that gives rise to stereotypes about people, and eventually leads to racism and sexism.
What is interesting, is that Perrett does conclude that there are certain characteristics that can be easily picked up when reading faces.
What Can Be Read From Your Face
First, it is easy for people to pick up wether a face has masculine or feminine features. The tell-tale clues of a masculine face are the stronger jaw line, and a pronounced brow line. Whereas, the feminine face would be the opposite: soft jaw line and soft brow line.
Second, people are also able to pick up on the level of “seriousness” or “determination” of a face. Even when the the person has a neutral expression.
Perrett did tests with people, trying to see if they were able to pick up on other traits of people. For this he used the Big 5 personality traits of Extroversion, Openness to Experiences, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability.
He found that people weren’t able to pick up on clues very well, except for a few folks that could tell the level of extroversion of a face. I don’t know what clue those people were using, but it would be interesting if they were able to describe accurately what tipped them off.
What Traits Are The Most Attractive
What he did find out, which I’ve known for a long while, is that if given a choice of a long-term mate, people have a general preference for the extrovert, conscientious, open to experience, agreeable, and emotional stable.
At this point, it should be pointed out that you can cross reference the Big 5 to Myers-Briggs.
E vs I: is a direct correlation to the Extroversion category in the Big 5.
S vs N: is correlated to the Openness to Experiences category, with a high score on openness being the same as the person having the Intuition (N) trait.
T vs F: is correlated to the Agreeableness category in the Big 5. A person with the Feeling (F) trait would have a high agreeableness score.
J vs P: is correlated to the Conscientious category in the Big 5. A person with a high score in conscientiousness would have the Judging (J) trait.
There is no cross reference in Myers-Briggs for the emotionally stable trait of the Big 5.
Using the Myers-Briggs categories just listed above, the general preference is for the ENFJ type of person as a spouse. According to Perrett’s studies, these people had higher attractiveness scores.
How To Use This Information to Type People
I don’t know how much knowledge Dave Perrett has about the different personality types, but if you work backwards from the known traits of people, you can draw some very strong inferences about a person by looking at their face.
First off, you can pick up whether a person has the Feeling trait or the Thinking trait by judging the level of masculinity of the face. If the face you are looking at has a masculine look to it, then they are a Thinker. If it is softer and more feminine, then the person is has the Feeling trait.
If you were trying to Type a person by looking at their face, this one difference allows you to eliminate one whole temperament type right from the get-go. In other words, you go from 16 types to 12 possible choices.
I use the four temperaments to type people, and they are defined by two letter combinations in the Myers-Briggs dichotomies. I give them metaphors to make it easier to identify them. These metaphors come from positions in a human army. Together, as I’ve explained elsewhere, we all make up an army, whose purpose is to fight and survive wars. The letter combinations of the four temperaments are:
By deciding whether a face is masculine or feminine, we either eliminate the T or the F trait. In effect, we can eliminate a person from being a NT (strategist) if they have a feminine looking face, or eliminate the NF (Morale Officer) if they have masculine features on their face.
Once you have determined masculine or feminine, and have eliminated either the NT or the NF temperament, you can go to the next clue.
Level of Seriousness
The level of seriousness on a face can give us more clues to as to the personality type. But let me give you this caveat up front. The environmental clues surrounding the person can change the expression on the person. If a normally upbeat and happy person is put in a dire situation (like a car crash or being really tired), it will change their facial appearance and make them look more serious.
Therefore, before you gauge the level of seriousness on a person’s face, take into account the environmental conditions that may be affecting the person’s emotional state. I wouldn’t make any judgements if they are not in a natural neutral state of mind (like driving a car, listening to music). Fortunately, most time, probably 80% of the day, they are in a neutral state, so this piece of information can be useful.
If the person looks serious or determined, there is a strong likelihood that they have the J (judging) trait. The P (perceiving) trait tends to give the face a more relaxed and somewhat happier appearance.
This one trait will allow you to potentially eliminate one temperament category, but I would still suggest that you look at the other clues besides facial appearance.
For example, lets say the person has a masculine features, so we have already eliminated the NF temperament type. And if the person has a serious look to their face, I would say that they are not of the SP (warrior) personality temperament.
Why? Because if the person has a happy and relaxed expression (in their neutral state), then you could eliminate them as not having the P trait. This would eliminate the SJ (Logistical) category.
In effect, we’ve eliminated 1/2 of the choices. What started out as four choices has been narrowed down to two, the SJ (Logistical) or the NT (Strategist).
But I cannot stress enough that this is not 100% reliable. I would say it is maybe 65% reliable, because you can never be 100 percent certain that the person is in a neutral state of mind and not reacting emotionally to the things that are going on around them.
Fortunately, people are giving off all sorts of clues to their personality besides the look on their faces. Besides their facial appearance, they are also radiating a lot of other clues to their type too. Every little piece of information that you have will help increase the odds of you being correct. It is only when you add them all together can you make a reliable type determination.
If you would like to learn more about how to type people, and all the other clues that people give off, you might be interested in the Personality Marketing Manual. It will show you how to type a person in under a minute using the techniques described here.