Science

Head angle and facial expression key to looking bossy, study finds

The University of St Andrews and Dalian University of Technology in China teamed up for the research.

Tilting your head up or down makes you look bossier and less honest, according to a new study on people’s perceptions of others.

Facial expression was also key to making a person looking bossy, according to the research collaboration between the University of St Andrews and Dalian University of Technology in China.

The team studied how the same person changes in appearance when they adopt different postures because human vision is not very good at realising the true 3D shape of a head.

When a head rotates, all the features remain the same shape but to others they look different – meaning the face looks wider and the emotion looks sterner.

Dalian associate Professor Dongyu Zhang said: “We took photographs of 24 faces posing with different head tilts, 20 degrees up, down or level, while maintaining eye gaze at the camera.

“Sixty-seven observers rated the character of the person depicted in each photo.

“Judgments were then related to the apparent emotion and to the shape of facial features.

“We found that facial width did not relate to the change in personality but apparent emotion from the mouth curvature and eyebrow height explained the change in both trustworthiness and dominance.”

Downwards head rotation makes the mouth appear to curve upwards and look more like a smile, but the same posture also lowers the apparent height of the eyebrows making the expression look hostile.

Rotating the head up has the opposite effect, according to the study, making the mouth curve down and appear stern but the eyebrows look more positive.

Professor David Perrett, from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at St Andrews, was the lead scientist of the study.

He said: “Getting an impression of the way someone is likely to interact with you is important for all sorts of social situations.

“We avoid those who look untrustworthy or overbearing because we don’t want to be cheated or bossed around.

“It is interesting just how profoundly posture affects our appearance and others perception of us.

“If we want to look honest and not too domineering, then we should avoid both looking down and looking up to others.”

The study – Apparent Emotional Expression Explains the Effects of Head Posture on Perceived Trustworthiness and Dominance, but a Measure of Facial Width Does Not – is published in the online journal Perception.

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