Theodore (Ted) Stark
Jul 15 · 3 min read
The image is credited to Psychological Science.

Facial expressions (such as smiles, squints, or frowns) are one of the cues that we use in social perception. While a lot of research has been conducted on facial muscle movements, few of those studies have examined the role (if any) the positional tilting of the head plays in how others regard someone. Researchers from the University of British Columbia report on what influence the tilt angle of a person’s head may have on how others perceive them.

In their paper, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers describe how they exposed a total of 1,517 participants (recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) to a male avatar (first study) or the real face of a male and female actor (second study), all with a constant and neutral facial expression. These participants were asked to rate each face (dominant, neutral, or passive) in one of three head tilt positions: (tilted up (+10°), level (0°), or tilted down (-10°)). Participants rated each face based on a standard set of statements used to judge passivity or dominance.

The findings revealed that when a face is tilted downward, a seeming neutral facial expression is perceived by others to be more dominant. The downward tilt of the face systematically alters the overall appearance. Additional experiments found that the angle of the eyebrows aided in the calculation of dominance. These findings suggest that the more of a perceived V shape the eyebrows make, the higher the degree of dominance. This was even true when the neutral facial expression was maintained, and the V shape was based solely on the participant’s perception of the face.

These data suggest that facial expressions alone may not reveal the full story in terms of how others perceive us. The insights published in this paper have the potential to impacts not only to social interaction but how AI and Machine Learning interpret our world.

This was Article 120 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.


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Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

Theodore (Ted) Stark

Written by

Empirically minded User Experience professional with a bias towards the science that informs human-computer interaction.

Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

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