Understanding the role of faces in person perception: Increased reliance on facial appearance when judging sociability



Faces play a central role in person perception. People spontaneously judge others’ personality based on their facial appearance and these impressions guide many consequential decisions. When do people rely on facial appearance? In five studies (N = 1,936, four preregistered), we test whether reliance on facial appearance depends on the goal of impression formation (i.e., on which trait dimension targets are evaluated). Trait impressions are, to a large extent, based on the resemblance of facial cues to emotional expressions. As emotional expressiveness is a central component of sociability, we hypothesized that people would more readily perceive sociability in faces. We find that facial appearance is seen as more indicative of a person’s sociability than their morality or competence (Study 1, n = 338), and this was particularly true for sociability traits that are characterized by emotional expressions (e.g., enthusiasm, playfulness; Study 2, n = 162). We find the same pattern when examining the influence of facial cues on judgment and decision-making. People are more confident in the accuracy of their trait impressions when judging sociability (Study 3, n = 527), they value information on the facial appearance of job candidates more when looking for a sociable employee (Study 4, n = 390), and they view reliance on facial appearance when making hiring decisions as more appropriate and more effective when looking for a sociable employee (Study 5, n = 519). Together, our results provide converging evidence that people view facial appearance as especially relevant for judging a person’s sociability.
Date made available2019

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