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Title: Facial stereotypes
Author: Santos, Isabel Maria Barbas dos, 1973-
Advisor: Brito-Mendes, Carlos
Young, Andy
Keywords: Estereótipos
Aparência - aspectos sociais
Traços de personalidade
Teses de mestrado - 2001
Defense Date: 2001
Abstract: The tendency to judge personality from facial appearance is very common and, for centuries, people have believed that character is revealed in the face. Some of the information that the human face conveys can be detected and interpreted usually with a great level of accuracy, such as age, gender or even some emotions. However, the inference of personality characteristics from the face proves to be less accurate, although still extremely common. Signs of the practice of physiognomy {face reading) can be identified over the years, and although that practice is not so popular nowadays, those beliefs are still present in the form of what can be called facial stereotypes. A literature review demonstrated that the not very broad amount of research that is available on this subject shows that people are extremely consistent in their judgements of other people's honesty, intelligence, personality traits, intentions, occupation and even political opinions, based on facial appearance. However, despite the observed consistency of these judgements, it is usually found that they are barely valid. Nevertheless, the observation that people tend to hold and apply facial stereotypes in a consistent manner has conferred importance to a better understanding about the underlying mechanisms of these stereotypes. Accordingly, the present research work has been focused on the study of the nature of the processes underlying the activation and application of social stereotypes based on facial appearance. This thesis is organised in three main sections. Section I comprises the introduction to the field of research and the review of the literature relevant to the area. Section II describes all the experimental procedures and results observed, and includes the individual discussions of each experiment. Finally, Section III is dedicated to the general discussion and conclusions, including as well some suggestions for further directions in future studies. After the brief and general introduction to the field of facial stereotypes outlined in Chapter 1, the detailed literature review starts with an overlook at the more important issues related to face processing in general (Chapter 2). Here, the main differences between object and face recognition are outlined, the most prominent models of face processing are reviewed, and neuropsychological and neurophysiological data are mentioned, highlighting the specific aspects involved in processing faces. In Chapter 3, a general review of the main issues concerning the study of stereotypes is carried out. The notion of stereotype has been a central concept in the domain of social psychology and social cognition over the last decades, and the main findings on this field have important implications for the study, in particular, of facial stereotypes. The more significant literature regarding the aspects of representation, formation and activation of stereotypes, and the processing of stereotype congruent and incongruent information is examined. Facial stereotypes are then the central topic of Chapter 4, which covers the relevant literature on this field. Despite the fact that both face processing and social stereotypes are issues extensively explored, the studies on facial stereotypes are not so abundant. In fact, the present research work can be considered innovative, in the sense of bringing on together the study of stereotypes and face perception, under the perspectives of cognitive and experimental psychology. Most of the literature concerned with physiognomic stereotypes has been more devoted to explore the issue of whether the inferences about personality that are made based on facial appearance are valid or not, and which are the characteristics of the face that lead to certain judgements. However, some methodological issues were sometimes raised with respect to some of those studies. The possible mediating mechanisms linking physical features and inferential responses are reviewed, as well as the main findings regarding the accuracy of face reading. A model of appearance-trait relations is mentioned, which comprises four possible causal routes to actual appearance-trait relations, and some overgeneralization effects in perceiving faces are discussed. Then, findings related to two of the stereotypes that are most widely discussed in the available literature are presented, namely the attractiveness stereotype and the babyfacedness stereotype. Some issues regarding the perception of intelligence from facial appearance are also highlighted, and some neuropsychological data supporting the importance of the face in social judgements are reported. Chapter 5 presents an overview of the present work, summarising the most relevant theoretical background, the aims of the present research work and a brief description of the main experimental procedures. In general, the investigation carried out was directed at the issue of whether different types of stereotypes are automatically activated whenever we look at a face, or require more deliberate evaluation. The facial stereotypes that have been addressed were related to attractiveness, intelligence and trustworthiness. The experiments were specifically designed to investigate the potential interference of the activation of social stereotypes, either in learning labels attached to male and female adult faces, or in the reaction times and response accuracy in an Irrelevant Feature Paradigm. The collection of the initial face database and the methodology used to obtain the ratings are fully described in Chapter 6. Satisfactory interrater correlations were observed, and none of the raters deviated significantly from the mean rating value for each stimulus. This analysis validated both the sample of faces that were collected and the ratings that were obtained. So, the facial stimuli for the subsequent experiments were selected based on this set of ratings. Experiment 1 (described in Chapter 7) was based on a learning paradigm and the results observed support the experimental predictions of preferential recall of stereotype congruent information, under fairly high load processing conditions, for all the three traits (attractiveness, intelligence and tasteworthiness). Given the experimental conditions, it was suggested that the stereotypes had been automatically activated and that their activation influenced the representation in memory of information that is associated with the stereotypes. These results also provide experimental support for the social reality of facial stereotypes. In Experiment 2 (covered by Chapter 8), a different experimental paradigm was used - an irrelevant feature paradigm, which is a kind of interference paradigm, where the main task was a gender decision task. In this experiment, a significant congruency effect was found only in the attractiveness condition. The fact that attractiveness is probably one of the most readily judged characteristics from facial appearance was taken to explain this observation. It was also suggested that this evidence gave further support to the biological and evolutionary perspectives on the importance of attractiveness. Its relevance probably contributes to a higher accessibility of the attractiveness stereotype, which would be more readily picked up and would have more automatic effects on people's reactions. Furthermore, it is also reasonable to consider that the gender decision task used in this experiment did not actually require the processing of the characteristics that are associated with the facial stereotypes, relying instead on different cues. Consequently, only a highly accessible stereotype as attractiveness would have a significant interference on task performance. Finally, Experiment 3 (described in Chapter 9) addressed the question of whether the perceived attractiveness of a face can influence the perception of other characteristics. The experimental paradigm was again the irrelevant feature paradigm, but this time attractiveness and intelligence were simultaneously manipulated when selecting the facial stimuli. The observed results suggested that the judgements of other characteristics, namely intelligence, can indeed be influenced by people's facial attractiveness, and that the effects of the activation of the intelligence facial stereotype might be mediated by the level of attractiveness. The observed effects of attractiveness on the perception of intelligence were in such a way that a face which looks intelligent, and which also looks unattractive will probably seem less intelligence. On the other hand, an unintelligent looking face that is at the same time attractive will probably look slightly more intelligent. Chapter 10 includes the general discussion of the more relevant experimental observations, summarises the main conclusions and presents some suggestions for further studies.
Description: Tese de mestrado em Psicologia (Psicologia Cognitiva), apresentada à Universidade de Lisboa através da Faculdade de Psicologia e de Ciências da Educação, 2001
Designation: Mestrado em Psicologia
Appears in Collections:FPCE - Dissertações de Mestrado

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