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Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2008 May 1;2(3):1497.

Social Psychological Face Perception: Why Appearance Matters.

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Brandeis University.


We form first impressions from faces despite warnings not to do so. Moreover, there is considerable agreement in our impressions, which carry significant social outcomes. Appearance matters because some facial qualities are so useful in guiding adaptive behavior that even a trace of those qualities can create an impression. Specifically, the qualities revealed by facial cues that characterize low fitness, babies, emotion, and identity are overgeneralized to people whose facial appearance resembles the unfit (anomalous face overgeneralization), babies (babyface overgeneralization), a particular emotion (emotion face overgeneralization), or a particular identity (familiar face overgeneralization). We review studies that support the overgeneralization hypotheses and recommend research that incorporates additional tenets of the ecological theory from which these hypotheses are derived: the contribution of dynamic and multi-modal stimulus information to face perception; bidirectional relationships between behavior and face perception; perceptual learning mechanisms and social goals that sensitize perceivers to particular information in faces.

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