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Junpeng Lao, Kay Foreman, Xinyue Zhou, Martin Lages, Jamie Hillis, Roberto Caldara; Social judgments from faces are universal. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):698. doi: 10.1167/10.7.698.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
There is a growing body of evidence showing that humans make automatic and reliable personality inferences from facial appearance. Interestingly, it has been robustly shown that the recognition of other-race faces is impaired compared to same-race faces (the so-called other-race effect), with categorization of gender and age also achieved inefficiently. However, the extent to which the ability of making reliable inferences from faces generalizes across cultures and faces from different races is poorly understood. This issue is even timelier considering recent studies that have challenged the universality of face processing. For instance, we recently showed that Westerners predominantly fixate the eyes during face recognition, whereas Easterners fixate the central region of the face (i.e., nose) (Blais et al., 2008). Culture also modulates the strategy observers use to gather visual information during facial expression categorization (Jack et al., 2009). Therefore, asking whether social judgments from faces generalize across cultures is a natural question to be addressed. To this aim, we tested Western Caucasian and East Asian observers performing visual and social judgments from all the combinations of face pairs sampled from 40 Western Caucasian and 40 East Asian unfamiliar faces. Observers from both cultures first evaluated the physical and the social similarity of each face pair. Subsequently, observers performed binary social evaluations on the same face pairs for attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness and warmth. All binary decisions were paired with a measure of confidence. Finally, we represented the face space for each of the judgments in matrices of dissimilarity weighted by confidence levels for each observer and culture. Mantel correlations performed on the matrices of dissimilarity indicated a fairly robust agreement across cultures for all judgments, both visual and social. Our data show that humans rely on universal rules to perform trait inferences from facial appearance.
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