The scientific story of first impressions—and why the snap character judgments we make from faces are irresistible but usually incorrect
We make up our minds about others after seeing their faces for a fraction of a second—and these snap judgments predict all kinds of important decisions. For example, politicians who simply look more competent are more likely to win elections. Yet the character judgments we make from faces are as inaccurate as they are irresistible; in most situations, we would guess more accurately if we ignored faces. So why do we put so much stock in these widely shared impressions? What is their purpose if they are completely unreliable? In this book, Alexander Todorov, one of the world's leading researchers on the subject, answers these questions as he tells the story of the modern science of first impressions.
Drawing on psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, computer science, and other fields, this accessible and richly illustrated book describes cutting-edge research and puts it in the context of the history of efforts to read personality from faces. Todorov describes how we have evolved the ability to read basic social signals and momentary emotional states from faces, using a network of brain regions dedicated to the processing of faces. Yet contrary to the nineteenth-century pseudoscience of physiognomy and even some of today's psychologists, faces don't provide us a map to the personalities of others. Rather, the impressions we draw from faces reveal a map of our own biases and stereotypes.
A fascinating scientific account of first impressions, Face Value explains why we pay so much attention to faces, why they lead us astray, and what our judgments actually tell us.
Alexander Todorov is professor of psychology at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research on first impressions has been covered by media around the world, including the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Daily Telegraph, Scientific American, PBS, and NPR. He lives in Princeton.
"Face Value raises a compelling and unresolved issue: First impressions are reasonably consistent, meaning that people largely agree on which faces they judge trustworthy or threatening or dominant. Yet these judgements may be far from accurate, leading to great social injustice in myriad daily interactions. . . . Todorov’s book excels in explaining how he and other researchers have figured out many of the subtle cues that the mind uses in constructing [these impressions]."--Nicholas Wade, Wall Street Journal
"An impressive, well-written, and well-illustrated book. . . . Stimulating and enjoyable."--Valerie Thompson, Science
"Faces are what newborns naturally seek. They are the objects of our love, trust, fear, longing, and memory. They inspire poetry and the visual arts. We rely on faces to reveal mood and character, allowing them to influence hiring decisions, criminal convictions, and elections. In this magisterial work, Todorov takes us on a tour of the face, its role in human affairs, and its power to influence and mislead. You'll always look at faces, but never the same way again."--Eldar Shafir, coauthor of Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives
"Todorov's work is fun and somewhat shocking on the surface, but the deeper implication--that much of our decision-making and behavior is unconscious and unknown to us--goes well beyond his findings about the biases we bring to evaluating the faces of other people. Face Value shows that as much as we think of ourselves as rational creatures in control of what we do we are just as often influenced by eyebrows and chins. Terrifying and enjoyable."--David Byrne, founder of Talking Heads and author of How Music Works
Table of Contents:
1 The Appeal Of Physiognomy
1 The Physiognomists’ Promise 9
2 Single-Glance Impressions 28
3 Consequential Impressions 48
2 Understanding First Impressions
4 The Psychologist’s Trade 73
5 Making The Invisible Visible 93
6 The Functions Of Impressions 112
7 The Eye Of The Beholder 131
3 The (Mis)accuracy Of First Impressions
8 Misleading Images 147
9 Suboptimal Decisions 168
10 Evolutionary Stories 185
11 Life Leaves Traces On Our Faces 203
4 The Special Status Of Faces
12 Born To Attend To Faces 219
13 Face Modules In The Brain 233
14 Illusory Face Signals 246
Epilogue: More Evolutionary Stories 264
Notes And References 271
Image Credits 311