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Thread: Study: We Can See Intelligence (or Lack of Intelligence) in People's Faces

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    Study: We Can See Intelligence (or Lack of Intelligence) in People's Faces

    A new study in the journal Intelligence indicates that viewers can, on average, sort the intelligent from the unintelligent merely by seeing individuals’ faces. Since both intelligence and character are largely heritable, it is not at all surprising that we can sense such traits by noting, even if subconsciously, the facial features with which they are linked.


    • The accuracy of intelligence perceptions was assessed in a large sample of twins.
    • Intelligence judgements based on facial images significantly correlated with IQ.
    • Both stable and transitory facial cues were associated with perceived intelligence.
    • Stable face traits mediated the relationship between perceived intelligence and IQ.
    • Perceived intelligence and IQ share a familial (genetic and/or environmental) source of variance.

    Perceptions of intelligence based on facial features can have a profound impact on many social situations, but findings have been mixed as to whether these judgements are accurate. Even if such perceptions were accurate, the underlying mechanism is unclear. Several possibilities have been proposed, including evolutionary explanations where certain morphological facial features are associated with fitness-related traits (including cognitive development), or that intelligence judgements are over-generalisation of cues of transitory states that can influence cognition (e.g., tiredness). Here, we attempt to identify the morphological signals that individuals use to make intelligence judgements from facial photographs. In a genetically informative sample of 1,660 twins and their siblings, we measured IQ and also perceptions of intelligence based on facial photographs. We found that intelligence judgements were associated with both stable morphological facial traits (face height, interpupillary distance, and nose size) and more transitory facial cues (eyelid openness, and mouth curvature). There was a significant association between perceived intelligence and measured IQ, but of the specific facial attributes only interpupillary distance (i.e., wide-set eyes) significantly mediated this relationship. We also found evidence that perceived intelligence and measured IQ share a familial component, though we could not distinguish between genetic and shared environmental sources.

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