By Eva Gregersen
One of the current trends in Jungian typology is “face reading,” that is, the idea that people’s types can be determined by either their physical appearance or their eye movements or facial gestures. At CelebrityTypes, we have been roundly critical of “face reading” (here, here, here, and here). However, we have perhaps left the general reader with an overly negative impression of the merits of face reading.
There is still no evidence at all that “face reading” can be used to determine personality types, so if you dislike the mixture of typology and face reading there is nothing to worry about. However, in the interest of fairness we must state that face reading and physiognomy approaches to psychology are not completely useless, but have been shown to have some merit in three specific areas.
One is that people are seemingly able to predict the sexual orientations of strangers by simply looking at their faces. One line of studies has determined that sexual orientation can statistically be deciphered through facial information but has held itself back from determining exactly which facial features makes a person seem gay in the eyes of the observer. Meanwhile, another study has found that the faces of homosexual men are typically shorter and broader than the faces of heterosexual men (though this study concluded that people are not actually able to predict the sexual orientation of strangers by staring at their faces.)
The other is that people have been shown to be able to accurately predict survival-related traits such as a stranger’s attractiveness (reproductive potential) and aggression level (threat to own survival) based on just 40-100 milliseconds of watching that person’s face. There is also some evidence to suggest that less survival-related traits like intelligence can be detected by face reading, although this evidence is more scant. As the researchers conjecture, since survival and reproduction are the two most basic features of biological existence, it makes good sense that humans are able to garner some basic facts about each other intuitively, without the use of protracted intellectual analysis.
Third we find that people are able to tell a stranger’s political orientation by simply looking at a photo of that person’s face. The rational explanation for this ability, as proposed by the scientists John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford, among others, seems to be that a person’s typical level of emotional expression is on average discernible even from static photos of that person’s face. On average, people who are more emotionally expressive at their base are also more prone to be left-wingers. And conversely, people who are emotionally inexpressive are – statistically speaking – more likely to be right-wingers. Thus the reason that people are able to predict the political orientation of strangers by “face reading” seems to be that left-wingers are statistically more prone to be smiling and appear relaxed in their photos (e.g. Alan Alda) while right-wingers will typically have less of a smile and more of frown (e.g. Clint Eastwood).
So it would seem that “face reading” is not completely useless. However, even when factoring in this evidence, we are still a far cry from the way “face reading” is usually meshed with Jungian typology.
As I have taken care to point out, all of these studies rely on statistical averages rather than one-to-one assessments of the sexual or political orientation of specific individuals. The evidence only supports what the scientists call “chance guessing with above chance accuracy.” But the way “face reading” is used in conjunction with Jungian typology, a 1:1 connection between a single person’s facial movements and that specific person’s type is usually postulated. However, there is no evidence to suggest that face reading works well when applied in depth as opposed to superficially. Beyond giving a certain quick hunch where the accuracy is better than random, face reading appears to be useless.
That is because an important finding in the studies is that “face reading” ceases to be of value after as little as 40 milliseconds. In 40-100 milliseconds, people get a quick hunch from the face that is better than random and further time spent analyzing the face is then no longer of value. This should be contrasted with the protracted research that the “face readers” of the Jungian type community make use of in order to arrive at their findings.
In fact, one of the studies cited below (Rule, Amady & Hallett 2009) actually found that reflecting on the impressions gained through face reading was bound to lead to worse results than merely going with the initial 40 millisecond snap judgment of a person’s face. So in any case, face reading is only supported by evidence when used superficially, subliminally, and instinctively. When we want to assess a person’s character in depth and with reference to intellectual concepts like Jungian functions, we must leave face reading behind.
It must further be said that none of these scientific approaches are used prescriptively, that is to say, no one would claim that someone actually is gay or left-wing because a bunch of strangers have asserted it to be likely based on his face. In both cases, we would seek to verify whom the person actually votes for and whom he finds arousing before venturing any judgment as to whether he actually is gay or is left-leaning.
In other words, we would never rely on face reading as a determinant in itself, but would do everything possible to verify the person’s preferences independently of face reading and with direct reference to the definition of sexual or political orientation.
In Jungian typology, the way to type someone with direct reference to the definitions involved is by meta-representing for oneself what goes on in the other person’s psyche through psycho-dynamic inference. But in the face reading community involved with Jungian type, people will simply claim that someone is a certain psychological type because of that person’s physical gestures and eyes movements.
So not only are “face readers” assuming 100% reliability of something that is most likely just “better than random.” They also let “face reading” data override the data that appears from typing someone with direct reference to definitions. Basically, their method is analogous to telling someone that he is a Democrat because he smiles in his photo while disregarding the fact that he has been voting Republican his entire life.
Regarding “face reading,” it will also be of interest to point out that while we are compelled to respect the scientific developments in the field, none of these innovations pertain directly to the core personality, but only to its derivatives. That is to say, there is still no evidence that you can tell a person’s preference for, say, Sensation or Intuition (and much less his cognitive functions) by staring at a photo of that person or by watching a video clip of that person with the sound turned off.
Finally, I would like to end by pointing out that mixing “face reading” with Jungian typology is not as new as its adherents often say. It was suggested and practiced by the Jungian James Oppenheim in the 1920s, but did not catch on.
Jacobs, Hibbing & Smith: Carrying Your Heart (and Your Politics) on Your Face: Ideology and Facial Muscle Responses Midwest Political Science Association Meetings 2012
Rule & Amady: Brief Exposures: Male Sexual Orientation is Accurately Perceived at 50ms Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 2008
Rule & Amady: Democrats and Republicans can be Differentiated from their Faces Plos ONE 5(1) 2010
Rule, Amady & Hallett: Female Sexual Orientation Is Perceived Accurately, Rapidly, and Automatically from the Face and Its Features Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 2009
Valentova, Kleisner, Havlicek & Neustupa: Shape Differences Between the Faces of Homosexual and Heterosexual Men Archives of Sexual Behavior February 2014, Volume 43, Issue 2
Willis & Todorov: First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-ms Exposure to a Face Psychological Science 17(7) 2006