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The Role of Facial Structure in Facial Perception and Judgment

In the course of history different theories have been proposed advocating a direct link between facial structure (or physiognomy, as it is also called) and psychological qualities or personal characteristics (Lavater, 1775/78). Modern science has dismissed these theories, and empirical studies have failed to find support for an unequivocal correspondence of specific facial structures to specific attributes (Henss, 1995). Nonetheless, there is evidence indicating that facial structure may influence the way a person will be judged (Malatesta et al., 1987) and responded to (Bull & Rumsey, 1982; Rumsey et al., 1982; Nadkimen, 1984), especially in cases of facial deformity (Aamot, 1978; Bull & Stevens, 1981) or attractiveness (McCullers & Staat, 1974; Terry & Brady, 1976; Milord, 1978). Further indication for the influence of facial structure on interpersonal judgments and responses is provided by the "Kindchenschema" theory of Konrad Lorenz (1943) as well as by empirical studies in this area (Hückstedt, 1965; Sternglanz et al., 1977; McCabe, 1984). In this theory Lorenz proposed that the facial structure of babies - characterized by large forehead, small chin and concave nose - elicits in adults nurturant behavior while inhibiting aggressive acts and is thus of survival value for the new borns. Babyfacedness has also been found to correlate with judged attractiveness with differential stability for males and females across the life span (Zebrowitz et al., 1993). The influence of static facial signals on the decoding of rapid facial signals has not been yet systematically investigated. An older study by Eistel (1953) indicates that facial structure influences the judgment of facial expression. In this judgment study the investigators employed schematically drawn faces that varied on the dimensions of facial expression and facial structure. The faces were constructed in such a way that the outer contours of the face (depicting the physiognomy) could be varied without interfering with the inner part of the drawing (depicting the facial expression). So each facial expression was embedded in different facial structures. The results obtained from the judgment of the various combinations of facial expression and facial structure indicated that faces with a rounder facial structure were more positively rated than faces with a more quadratic shape, regardless of their facial expression. It seems then that in order to investigate perceptual and judgmental processes with regard to facial expression, individual characteristics of facial material need to be minimized. Otherwise physiognomic particularities may contaminate the judgment of the facial expression per se. Artificially constructed material with the aid of recent computer technology may be an alternative to photographic portrayals of facial expressions. Sets of facial material based on schematic drawings or caricatures of faces (Brennan, 1985) and of facial expressions (Musterle, 1984; Etcoff & Magee, 1992) have been developed and employed as stimulus material for decoding studies of facial affect.


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Methods of Psychological Research 1998 Vol.3 No.1
© 1998 Pabst Science Publishers