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Face Value:
The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions
Alexander Todorov

Hardcover | 2017 | $32.95 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691167497
336 pp. | 7 x 9 | 83 color illus. 85 halftones. 4 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400885725 |
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A Q&A with Alexander Todorov

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.


"A mesmerising book."--Carol Midgley, The Times

"Hugely entertaining."--Kate Douglas, New Scientist

"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."--John Antonakis, Science

"First impressions and snap judgements are not trivial: they can overturn elections and make or break careers. Drawing on cognitive and computer science, this weighty, well-illustrated study by psychologist Alexander Todorov journeys under the skin to reveal how 'face-reading'--as in the old pseudoscience of physiognomy--has given way to a scientific understanding of perceptual bias vis-à-vis the visage. Todorov unpeels the responses of newborns to 'faceness', the hunt for face-selective neurons, the chameleonic self-portraiture of artist Cindy Sherman and more."--Barbara Kiser, Nature

"Face Value sets out a persuasive and fascinating argument."--Oliver Moody, The Times

"Fascinating reading."--Diana Gitig, Ars Technica

"It’s not the kind of book you’d expect to want to read more--just as in an adventure novel--but that’s exactly what Face Value does: it gives you a lot of information in a way that always leaves you wanting for more. . . . A delightful book."--Mihai Andrei, ZME Science

"Compelling narrative voice and clear prose."--Hope Reese, Undark

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Table of Contents:

Prologue 1
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
Acknowledgments 269
Notes And References 271
Image Credits 311
Index 319

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