How does RACE & GENDER Play into this? How do national cultural  
traditions play into this? I deliberately darkened the original foto  
and placed it next to it. We know that most people in the US would  
pick the dark foto as the most fearful.

Another BS study in the pseudoscience tradition.
Whom Do We Fear Or Trust?

An untrustworthy face. Scientists concluded  the least trustworthy  
face (score, -8) had eyebrows
pointing down and lips curled at the edges. (Credit: Oosterhof &  

ScienceDaily (Aug. 7, 2008)  A pair of Princeton psychology  
researchers has developed a computer program that allows scientists to  
analyze better than ever before what it is about certain human faces  
that makes them look either trustworthy or fearsome.

In doing so, they have also found that the program allows them to  
construct computer-generated faces that display the most trustworthy  
or dominant faces possible.

Such work could have implications for those who care what effect their  
faces may have upon a beholder, from salespeople to criminal  
defendants, the researchers said.

In a paper appearing in the online edition this week of the  
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alexander Todorov, an  
assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton, and  
Nikolaas Oosterhof, a research specialist, continue an inquiry into  
the myriad messages conveyed by the human face. In 2005, Todorov's lab  
garnered international headlines with a study published in Science  
demonstrating that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real- 
world election results.

Taking what they have learned over time -- namely that, rightly or  
wrongly, people make instant judgments about faces that guide them in  
how they feel about that person -- the scientists decided to search  
for a way to quantify and define exactly what it is about each  
person's face that conveys a sense they can be trusted or feared. They  
chose those precise traits because they found they corresponded with a  
whole host of other vital characteristics, such as happiness and  

"Humans seem to be wired to look to faces to understand the person's  
intentions," said Todorov, who has spent years studying the subtleties  
of the simple plane containing the eyes, nose and mouth. "People are  
always asking themselves, 'Does this person have good or bad  

To conduct the study, the scientists showed unfamiliar faces to test  
subjects and asked them to describe traits they could gauge from the  
faces. The scientists boiled down the list of traits to about a dozen  
of the most commonly cited characteristics, including aggressiveness,  
unkemptness and various emotional states. The researchers showed the  
faces to another group and asked them to rate each face for the degree  
to which it possessed one of the dozen listed traits.

Based on this data, the scientists found that humans make split-second  
judgments on faces on two major measures -- whether the person should  
be approached or avoided and whether the person is weak or strong.

 From there, using a commercial software program that generates  
composites of human faces (based on laser scans of real subjects), the  
scientists asked another group of test subjects to look at 300 faces  
and rate them for trustworthiness, dominance and threat. Common  
features of both trustworthiness and dominance emerged. A trustworthy  
face, at its most extreme, has a U-shaped mouth and eyes that form an  
almost surprised look.

An untrustworthy face, at its most extreme, is an angry one with the  
edges of the mouth curled down and eyebrows pointing down at the  
center. The least dominant face possible is one resembling a baby's  
with a larger distance between the eyes and the eyebrows than other  
faces. A threatening face can be obtained by averaging an  
untrustworthy and a dominant face.

Using the program and the ratings from subjects, the scientists could  
actually construct models of how faces vary on these social  
dimensions. Once those models were established, the scientists could  
exaggerate faces along these dimensions, show them to other test  
subjects to confirm that they were eliciting the predicted emotional  
response, and find out what facial features are critical for different  
social judgments.

"If you can think of an emotion being communicated by the face as a  
kind of signal, you can understand that we can amplify that signal  
into what was almost a caricature to see if we get the proper effect,"  
Todorov said. "And we do."

The research raises questions about whether the brain is equipped with  
a special mechanism for "reading" or evaluating faces, he said. Some  
studies of infants have shown that, when offered a choice between  
looking at a random pattern and one resembling a human face, infants  
prefer the face. And there is evidence that face-seeking is deeply  
rooted in both the psyche and evolution as the amygdala, a primitive  
region of the brain, is stimulated when someone spies a scary face.

While it may be true that people have little control over their facial  
features, the study also indicates that expressions may be important  
as well, which could have implications for people in jobs that require  
extensive interactions with the public.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and a  
Huygens Scholarship from the Netherlands Organization for  
International Cooperation in Higher Education.
Adapted from materials provided by Princeton University.

author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"