Face of masculinity

“You can’t judge a book by its cover” we all wisely acknowledge, yet we do it all the time. This superficial judgement of course is not just restricted to bookstores; we do it with people all the time. Julius Caesar (well, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) did it with Cassius, not trusting him because of his “lean and hungry look”. Of course, Big Julie turned out to be right about Cassius’ intentions but that is beside the point; we don’t just easily judge another by how they look we love to judge people by appearances. How many minutes is it since you’ve heard something akin to, “Oooooh, I don’t like the look of ‘er!” or “No, no-owh, you can’t trust him, just look at his eyes” or more positively “I could just tell ‘im all my problems, ‘e’s got such a gentle face.” Judging people by appearances is a favourite human past-time but a new study has indicated just how wrong we can get it.

It is true that appearances indicate something of the nature of a person or thing, although not all of it, and the problem with judging by appearances is that we develop a shorthand to do it. It becomes just too difficult to make all the detailed observations we require to accurately assess someone in a moment and so we look for signs and that is where we go astray.

In a new study people were shown a series of faces and asked to evaluate how masculine the faces were. The people were also asked to estimate the height and weight of the people attached to those faces.

It emerged that when people judged that the men were taller and heavier they judged the face to appear more masculine. However, the accuracy of people’s predictions regarding height and weight was poor. In effect then, people were assigning masculinity based on mistaken generalisations as to what the man was like based on his face.

We use little cues in a face to extrapolate what a man (or a woman in other circumstances) is generally like, and we can make mistakes when we do that. It doesn’t mean that the face reveals nothing about a person; genetics and personality do etch their way into the unworked stone of a face. It does suggest though that the time to think you know a person, unless you maybe live with them, is never.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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