Predicting witness credibility based on facial features

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good afternoon:

Have you ever wondered about the validity of first impressions when meeting someone for the first time?

Researchers at York University in the UK conducted a study of the response to certain variable characteristics in human faces. They found that despite the variability of human faces and expressions, they created a model that predicted the first impressions of faces seen for the first time using a combination of facial attributes that explained 58% of the variance in impressions.

The authors describe the significance of their study as follows,

Understanding how first impressions are formed to faces is a topic of major theoretical and practical interest that has been given added importance through the widespread use of images of faces in social media. We create a quantitative model that can predict first impressions of previously unseen ambient images of faces (photographs reflecting the variability encountered in everyday life) from a linear combination of facial attributes, explaining 58% of the variance in raters’ impressions despite the considerable variability of the photographs. Reversing this process, we then demonstrate that face-like images can be generated that yield predictable social trait impressions in naive raters because they capture key aspects of the systematic variation in the relevant physical features of real faces.

The results of this study are important because they permit us to accurately predict most of the time how people will react to meeting a person for the first time based on the shape of the person’s face.

We form our opinion of a stranger’s trustworthiness or dominance without conscious thought almost instantly. The shape of a jaw or set of the eyes can lead to long-lasting opinions about someone. The scientists listed 65 facial attributes.

Although this information may be most useful to advertisers, trial lawyers can use it to predict how juries will react to what they say and whether they are likely to believe their clients.

Read the abstract of the study, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The implications of this study may be disquieting to those of us who want to believe that we do not make snap decisions about a stranger’s character based on the shape of the face.

Just for fun:

Based on looking at Theodore Wafer’s face, do you believe he is a trustworthy person?

Have you formed any opinions about him, based on his facial expressions?

If so, what are they?

What about Oscar Pistorius?

George Zimmerman?

Michael Dunn?

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24 Responses to Predicting witness credibility based on facial features

  1. Tee says:

    It’s what I didn’t see on either of their faces( Dunn, Zimmerman, Wafer) remorse, horror or just plan ole’ concern.

  2. roderick2012 says:

    When I first saw a pic of Wafer I thought he looked a lot like Piglet.

    • Dave says:

      Interesting. I didn’t see that at all. To me, he looks like he has some African ancestry–more so than Zimmerman. He also looks like someone who drinks a lot.

      • roderick2012 says:

        I’m not sure why whether Wafer has African ancestry is relevant unless you’re going to go down the he’s black so he can’t be a racist road, but he doesn’t look black to me- more South American Hispanic.

      • J4TMinATL says:

        I thought that too Dave but it could have been me also considering other factors – his life style

  3. crustyolemothman says:

    I suppose this type of facial identification for credibility could also be altered to determine by facial image those amongst us that could become criminals. With that ability we could arrest and simply eradicate all potential criminals and suddenly have a crime free society. Of course we would have no lawyers, no politicians and no bankers because we all know “those people” are predisposed to being part of the criminal element in our society… Wow, what a safe world we would suddenly have, right? Where should we start? With the lawyers, the bankers or the politicians? Or do we just grab all of them at once? Who knows, there might be hope for this old world after all…. Hmmm, should we also program it to tell us who amongst us will become a burden on society by becoming disabled, sick, or old? We would need to take care of that part of society as well.

    • They aren’t saying that the initial opinions formed in milliseconds without conscious awareness by scanning facial characteristics are correct. They are saying that they have discovered that humans do this and they can reliably predict what their opinions will be most of the time.

      • crustyolemothman says:

        At the tail end of my post I placed a <> but it seems that Word Press ate it…

        • crustyolemothman says:

          Ah Ha it did it again…. SARK…. It seems Word Press does not like the term sark? Let’s see if it makes it this time…

          • You got me, you rascal.

          • fauxmccoy says:

            it is because and [] are html codes that this page and many others use for formatting, such as to bold by typing, but because you input no valid command within those cute little angles, it was not processed as true html and discarded.

            try using things such as “/end snark” or (sarcasm) anything but the .

          • fauxmccoy says:

            ahhh haa it did it to me, in spite of my best efforts. just avoid using the greater than/less than symbols.

          • crustyolemothman says:

            fauxmccoy, Most people who are familiar with the contents of my posts are able to immediately recognize when I am not being serious, but in an effort to lessen the damage to the sensitivities of the less frequent reader of my remarks, I attempted to allow them the benefit of knowing that I was not serious. Darn that was a long sentence and will probably get me a big/huge ticket issued by the grammar police… Thank you for the information about how to ensure that my “sark/snark” warning will reach its intended position at the end of my post… Professor, you should have felt honored reading my comments and realizing that I promoted “lawyers” so far above “used car salesmen” and “tv evangelists” that I did not even mention them… Don’t you feel honored?
            On a serious note in reference to this subject, I learned many years ago not to allow my first impressions about a person because of his dress or physical appearance dictate my opinions of him/her as a person. What was that old saying? Better to be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and prove it? πŸ˜‰

          • fauxmccoy says:


          • crustyolemothman says:

            fauxmccoy, And then there are some who know what I am going to say before even I do…

          • fauxmccoy says:

            you once compared me to a character in a jim croce song (a song i’ve always loved). at the time, i could not tell if it was a complaint or compliment. i think i know the answer now though πŸ™‚

          • crustyolemothman says:

            fauxmccoy, I really try my best to not insult people or call names, and try my best to be polite. I might tease you or attempt to make you laugh, but outright insult I don’t feel is conducive to productive debate or conversation. Besides even if we disagree on an issue we can still find many other issues that we do agree on. But most of all, I enjoy your sense of humor and value your input… πŸ˜‰

          • fauxmccoy says:

            the feeling is mutual πŸ™‚

          • fauxmccoy says:

            i think this would have been the better analogy … i think willie mccoy but be a relative πŸ™‚

  4. Malisha says:

    Theodore Wafer’s face?

    Let me ask this: What credibility do we assign to Raechel Jeantel’s face? To the faces of the three kids left alive in the car after Dunn killed Jordan Davis? The face of Shiping Bao?

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