Over the past few years there have been a number of studies looking at our facial features, and trying to understand whether particular features seem to align themselves with particular professions. Indeed, only recently I wrote about a study from the University of Munich that looked at the kind of face that seemed to work for politicians.
A recent study, this time from the University of Warwick, suggests that having a face full of stereotypical features may well be advantageous, at least in certain industries.
The study asked participants to try and match up a series of random faces with particular professions. Interestingly, the results suggested that people were great at doing that for professions such as the military, sport and business. They were much less successful for professions such as politics.
The authors suggest that this kind of thing should increasingly be used in the selection process, which would put a whole new spin on your face fitting or not.
“The most plausible explanation, in our view, is that leaders are being selected, at least partly, according to how they look,” the researchers say.
“The research suggests the ideal face of a leader extends beyond fitting the correct ‘type’ but needs to fit the industry or profession as well.
“In fact, just having facial features that make one look like a good generic leader might not be sufficient to reach the most prestigious leadership positions in a domain; one may also need to possess facial features that stereotypically ‘fit’ the leaders in that domain.
“These findings are particularly noteworthy for those involved in leadership selection decisions. It is important to not let implicit biases get in the way and ensure that there is a rigorous selection process in place.”
In the study, which was published in the Leadership Quarterly journal, participants were shown black and white photos of various faces. Each of the faces was stripped of things like hair to try and reduce the clues as to which profession the person may be from. The participants were then asked to guess where each face worked.
The face of a leader
In total, over 500 real life leaders were chosen, from fields such as business, sport, the military and politics. Where possible, the researchers tried to remove any faces that were well known, with most of the people from a different country to the participants, to try and ensure the validity of the results.
“Despite a pessimistic outlook from participants on their estimations, we found the mean accuracy levels significantly exceeded chance for most leadership categories,” the authors say.
The researchers believe the results are telling in that people seemed able to guess the profession of a person, just by the shape and features of their face, suggesting that there are certain stereotypical facial features predominant in certain professions.
That they were generally unable to guess the politicians in the group suggests that politicians may have some rather more unique facial features than their peers in other professions.
Going beyond cultures
To test the hypothesis further, a new set of participants were recruited and asked to rate the faces again, also using 15 characteristics, from likability to trustworthiness. Lo and behold, they were similarly adept at identifying people from certain professions, just on their facial features alone.
“Our results indicate that one might be able to distinguish military and sports leaders from business and political leaders by evaluating how warm and attractive they look from their faces, since military and sports leaders were evaluated as looking less attractive and warm than the latter two,” the authors conclude.
Business leaders were shown to have competent faces, whereas leaders from the military were believed to have more mature and masculine faces than those from other professions. The results are fascinating as, of course, there isn’t really much we can do about the size or shape of our faces, yet they seem unduly influential in how people perceive us.