Face up to it – you’ve either got it or you haven’t

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ThumbsUp-maleScientists are claiming that seeing someone’s face for less than 100 milliseconds is enough to create an impression of your trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and attractiveness.

Your personality traits, your leadership abilities and your potential criminality can also be deduced from your facial appearance.

Psychologists have argued about this for some time but new evidence from Rollins College in Florida suggests it might be true.

Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the International Business School found a correlation between company profits and the shape of the Chief Executive’s face.

51ZfQfM8obL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In his new book, CEO Branding, he describes how successful business leaders tend to have broader faces than average meaning others view them as more dominant and successful.

He said “Facial width to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It is therefore possible that it could predict leadership performance“.

Similar results were found by researchers at Sussex University where they analysed the faces of FTSE100 Chief Executives.

The researchers there thought underpinning this was a high level of testosterone which is associated with aggression and pursuit of dominance and which also influences the growth of muscle and bone.

Research from Finland among military personnel suggests that this view of wide-faced men being leaders might not be universally applicable in different kinds of organisations however.

With regard to personality traits there is also evidence that up to 10% of CEOs in the UK, USA and Australia have psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies – the dark side of leadership.

It’s also been known for centuries that tall, attractive people were more likely to be in leadership positions. For one thing good-looking people tend to be brighter and being well-nourished in times past probably meant you came from a privileged background – always a good starting point.

The idea that we can read people just by looking at them for 1/10th of a second has been around for a long time and was associated with physiognomy and eugenics which became disreputable. 

Today however it is still relevant when it comes to career progression. Apart from the research on CEOs, which is based predominantly on men, the research on women suggests that you can be too good-looking to get an interview.

Despite that many women, and increasingly men, are boosting their looks artificially in order to enhance their erotic capital.


Have you for a face fit for a leader?

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military_business_handshake_1600_wht_9795Broad-faced men are more aggressive and better at sport but in the military thin-faced men are more likely to rise up the ranks.

Scientist in Finland have been researching some WW2 archives relating to the “Winter War” in 1939-40 ( a great feat of arms by the Finnish army resisting overwhelming soviet forces and well worth reading about).

The archives have details on almost 800 soldiers in three Finnish regiments including photographs, number of children, and the rank attained.

Wider-faced men tended to have more children but usually attained a lower military rank.

In men face shape is influenced by testosterone levels making it a proxy for evolutionary success hence the fact that generally speaking men with broader and shorter faces are more aggressive but less trustworthy.

The researchers point out that dominance in the military may be better predicted by leadership qualities other than aggressiveness. “The military relies on a strict hierarchy, which requires trust and fear of punishment to be maintained”

See also “Take me to your leader”

Liars and Lies

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lying_under_oath_1600_wht_9449Goebbels famously said in 1941:” The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous”.

And so the BIG LIE idea, 16 years after Hitler had first used the term in Mein Kampf, passed into popular usage.

There have been some famous liars in recent years, despite the risk of exposure on social media. For example Stephen Wilce. He was, until exposed by TV journalists, New Zealand’s Chief Defence Scientist and had a high security clearance and access to highly sensitive information.

According to his CV he had been in both MI5 and MI6, played international rugby for Wales, swam for England in the Commonwealth games, competed in the bobsleigh in the Winter Olympics, been a member of the New Zealand yacht squadron, fought alongside Prince Andrew in the Falklands and Gulf wars, been decorated for bravery, and had an honorary PhD from Cambridge university.

He did have an MBA, had been in the Royal Navy, had competed in bobsleigh events, and had worked as a bar manager at the Americas Cup but everything else was pure fantasy. It sounds funny but how embarrassing after all the security vettings and selection processes.

So while Wilce was clearly a fantasist, research tells us that people in positions of power are better liars.

Dana Carney, at Columbia University Graduate School of Business carried out research to see if it made a difference if you had more power. The research subjects were divided into bosses, with bigger offices and more power eg they could assign salaries, and employees. Half of each group were then asked, via computer instructions, to steal a hundred-dollar note then lie about it later when interviewed.

The subjects were then measured on 5 variables associated with lying:

accelerated speech – liars utter more syllables at a higher pitch and repeat words and sentences more
shoulder shrugs – liars shrug more when trying to suppress the lie
cortisol – liars’ saliva contains a higher concentration of the stress hormone
eyes – liars’ pupils dilate
mouth – liars press their lips together and involuntarily smirk when they think they’ve got away with it

Only the low-power liars could be seen to be lying. High-power liars were indistinguishable from non-liars. A sense of power seems to buffer people from the stress of lying and increases their ability to deceive others. As most people can’t detect liars better than chance unless specially trained it suggests most people in a position of power can get away with it. Perhaps they are in positions of power because they are good liars. (See “Leadership – the dark side“)

Occasionally of course powerful people get caught out lying. MPs are a case in point and many lost their seats following the expenses scandal exposed by the press.

Another aspect of the research was about power posture compared with low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol.

In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out although they didn’t know why.

Originally posted on SGANDA


Gender differences in responding to stress

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giving_hug_pc_1600_wht_3332A recent blog post from Psyblog piqued my interest. It referred to the research by Tomova et al published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

The researchers thought that stress would make everyone self-centred because when we’re stressed we don’t have the cognitive resources to think of others.

In other words when we’re stressed we become more egocentric and only think of ourselves. This reduces the cognitive load and we would be expected to be less empathetic.

But this was only true for men not women.

The experiments required the participants to judge others’ emotions, try to think from another person’s perspective, and try to imitate body movements.

Men performed these things worse when put under stress.  The opposite was true of women.

The authors , Lamm and Silami were unable to explain the reasons for the different outcomes. They thought women mighty internalise social support and have learned that this is better when they interact with others.

Oxytocin might also play a part as previous research suggests that under stress conditions women had higher levels of it than men.

When I read this it rang a bell. I remembered a suggestion that rather than having a “fight or flight” response to stress women adopted a “tend and befriend” approach.

I found the reference in an article in the APA Monitor on Psychology from January 2004.

Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at the University of California, who along with a number of colleagues developed the model, proposed that in stressful situations females protect themselves and their young through nurturing behaviours (tending) and forming alliances with larger social groups of women (befriending).

She published her model in Psychological Review (Vol 107, No 3 in July 2000).

Males by contrast show less of a tendency towards “tending and befriending” and were more likely to stick to the “fight or flight model”.

The model was based on research into non-human animals, neuroendocrine studies, and social psychology.

Most of the research on stress responses has been in males but women, as the primary caregivers, can’t always respond in the same way – even though they may have the same initial reaction. Females can’t just flee and leave their offspring at risk.

Oxytocin probably plays a key part as it enhances relaxation, reduces fearfulness,and decreases the stress responses typical in a “fight or flight” response. Males are more influenced by androgen hormones such as testosterone linked to hostility.

Oxytocin also promotes care-giving and underlies attachment between mother and child. Some studies have shown that mothers tend to be more caring when they are under stress.

As far as the befriending is concerned females prefer to be with others in stressful situations whereas males don’t. Generally women are more likely to reach out for social support in all types of stressful situations including health worries and conflict at work.

The researchers were keen to point out that we shouldn’t gender stereotype these responses and males might find it equally useful to use the “tend and befriend” strategy as part of a repertoire of responses which includes affiliation.

Sources: Psyblog and APA Monitor on Psychology January 2004






Testosterone makes you more honest

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lying_under_oath_1600_wht_9449We think of testosterone fuelled men being aggressive risk takers but recent research at the University of Bonn in Germany found that men were more honest after being given doses of testosterone 

What sex is your brain?

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Ever wondered what sex your brain is? Try these  6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml

If you are wondering what might influence your brain sex watch these linked YouTube videos on the influence of testosterone on your developing brain and the effect it can have on your work performance.

And if you want to complete an on-line test to see how empathising or systematising your brain is try it at: http://www.eqsq.com

It’s too simplistic to think all women are more empathising than men whilst men are more logical and less feeling – although there is some truth in it. When it comes to making strategic decisions recent research shows that people who are better at it use both the logical and emotional parts of their brains.

Moral judgements & decision-making under the influence

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You  might think your moral compass is pretty reliable – you know what is right and what is wrong and make decisions based on that and also judge other people accordingly.

So would you push someone under a train if it would save 5 other people? Probably not if you are on antidepressants according to research at Cambridge University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in New Scientist recently; “Take antidepressants and you’ll be a soft touch”.

An antidepressant citalopram, which raises your serotonin levels (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI), was administered to 24 healthy volunteers who were then given this moral dilemma. Compared to other volunteers given a placebo they were 10% less likely to inflict harm on someone. In another experiment the drugged volunteers were more likely to accept unfair treatment than punish the other person’s greed.

The researchers pointed out that antidepressants are the most widely prescribed class of drugs (in the USA) so it’s important to investigate their effects on users’ social behaviour and moral judgement.

But what if instead you asked people to clean themselves or think clean thoughts?

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that asking people to clean their hands with antiseptic wipes or priming them to feel clean by reading passages about how clean they felt had the same effect ie they made harsher moral judgements on a range of social issues including pornography and littering than those who were primed to feel dirty or who didn’t follow the cleaning procedure.

The researchers concluded that: “Acts of cleanliness not only have the potential to shift our moral pendulum to a more virtuous self, but also license harsher moral judgement of others“.

And if you are a woman and you think you are too trusting, a drop of testosterone could increase your guardedness. Researchers in the Netherlands and South Africa placed a  drop of testosterone on women’s tongues and asked them to judge the trustworthiness of a series of male faces.

They also asked other women to whom they gave a placebo, then repeated the experiment but swapped the treatment. Women who had just been given testosterone were less trustful of the men than those given the placebo. And the effect was more pronounced amongst women who were normally more trustful. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol 107 No 22)

Makes you wonder about juries or other situations where people judge others – not just so-called talent shows but more mundane things like selection panels or performance reviews.

Updated 6 January 2011: Having sweat samples hung under your nose in teabags sounds like something only a psychologist would devise. But it showed that when people are anxious they release a chemical signal that is detectable at an unconscious level by those nearby.

Participants were exposed to sweat from both anxious and non-anxious participants without knowing which was which. When exposed to anxious sweat they took longer but made riskier decisions.

Haegler ‘s research in Neuropsychologia showed that the participants rated both kinds of sweat equally unpleasant and couldn’t consciously tell the difference. Earlier research had shown that sweat collected from an anxious person triggered extra activity in emotion-related brain areas.

Haegler wondered if the perception of emotional chemical signals might alert individuals to danger but said that the results certainly suggested that; anxiety in humans can be communicated through chemical senses unconsciously”.