In the study, conducted by psychologists at Sonoma State University and the University of Texas at Austin, observers viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose. The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.
Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions. When observers saw naturally expressive behavior
(such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits. The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and
"We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information," says co-author Sam Gosling, "but what's striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph."
Gosling cautioned that observers still make plenty of mistakes, but noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.
With this kind of knowledge, individuals can choose to alter their appearance in specific ways, either to make identity claims or shape others impressions of them, co-author Laura Naumann says."If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as awarm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smileor are standing in a relaxed pose," suggests Naumann.
For example, whether you smile and how you stand (tense vs. relaxed, energetic vs. tired) are important cues to judge a variety of traits. Extraverts smile more, stand in energetic and less tense ways, and look healthy, neat and stylish. People who are more open to experience are
less likely to have a healthy, neat appearance, but are more likely to have a distinctive style of dress.