Psychologically, people like mysterious individuals

Can one infer a person's character traits from facial features or other physical features? In any case, we tend to orientate ourselves on the external appearance when we form our first opinion about the other person.

Studies have provided evidence that faces are perceived to be trustworthy to varying degrees due to their shape. British psychologists, for example, reported that men with wider faces in tests were more likely to abuse the trust of other subjects than those with narrow faces. At the same time, the mistrust of other test participants towards these men was also greater.

Czech scientists have now confirmed such results. And in addition to the shape of the face or the facial expression, the color of the eyes obviously also plays a role in the assessment of the character. Men with blue eyes, so write Karel Kleisner from Charles University in Prague and his colleagues in the specialist magazine Plos One, appear to others to be less trustworthy than brown-eyed people.

In an earlier study, the scientists had found that brown eyes in men are relatively common with a certain face shape, which is interpreted by others as an indication of a happy and therefore trustworthy person. Blue eyes, on the other hand, should be more often in men's faces, which tend to appear angry and therefore less trustworthy.

Against this background, the psychologists hypothesized that "brown-eyed individuals are perceived as more trustworthy than blue-eyed ones, since certain permanent facial features correlate with eye color". They wanted to test this idea with their study and at the same time determine whether the eye color alone influences the impression we have of the other person.

For this purpose, the researchers presented students with photos of 40 male and 40 female faces, which they were asked to judge as more or less trustworthy. Young adults with blue or brown eyes were shown.

Eye color exchanged

Unfortunately, the study does not reveal exactly how many people took part in the test. Because Kleisner and his colleagues state that the pictures "were judged by 238 participants (142 women and 98 men)". And continue: "Of the total of 248 assessors, 105 commented on trustworthiness, 103 on attractiveness and 30 on dominance. The assessors themselves differed in eye color: 99 had blue eyes, 61 green eyes and 78 brown eyes." Hopefully these are just typographical errors and that the numbers in the statistical tests were used sensibly. Because here 238, 240, 248 and then again 238 test participants are given one after the other.

As the psychologists now report in any case, "the eye color had a significant effect, with the brown-eyed faces being perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones". However, the scientists also observed a strong correlation between eye color and face shape in this study:

According to the researchers, blue-eyed male faces have a more angular lower face, a longer chin, a narrower mouth, relatively small eyes and eyebrows that are further apart. Faces with these characteristics were also perceived as less trustworthy than those of brown-eyed men. These are characterized by a rounder and wider chin, a wider mouth, relatively large eyes and closer together eyebrows.

To check whether the eye color alone has an effect, the researchers retouched the eyes on the male pictures and presented them to 106 other test participants. This time there was no difference between blue or brown eyes - but there was a difference between faces with different shapes.

The conclusion of the psychologists: "Although brown-eyed faces were perceived as more trustworthy than blue-eyed ones, it was not the brown eye color per se that had caused this stronger perception of trustworthiness, but rather the facial structures that appear together with brown eyes." It is still unclear why eye color and face shape are apparently related.

Attempts to judge the character of a person in everyday life based on the shape and eye color should be forgotten despite the knowledge. A number of studies have shown that we often identify certain characteristics of previously unknown characters within seconds. British psychologists David Perett and Anthony Little were able to show this using the example of students who were correctly assessed as conscientious or extroverted.

But these studies give indications of possible trends - nothing more. The character of a person is formed on the basis of genes and apparently also through the influence of hormones in the womb. However, the experiences that we have, especially during socialization, play an important role in the formation of our personality. And it is not reflected in the shape of the face. So it stays the same: Don't judge a book by its cover.

Anyone who does not take this into account repeats the mistakes of scientists who also tried in the past to connect external features with the character - and indeed on the basis of systematic observations. The Swiss pastor Johann Caspar Lavater had already put forward his popular theory of physiognomics in the 18th century, although the physicist and enlightener Georg Christoph Lichtenberg mocked it and led it to absurdity back then.

The attempts of the Italian physician Cesare Lombroso to find typical physical characteristics of "born criminals" and to compile a corresponding catalog also failed in the 19th century. However, the National Socialists took up Lombroso's ideas again and used them to justify the persecution, forced sterilization and euthanasia of criminals, among other things.