Accuracy in Facial Trustworthiness Impressions: Kernel of Truth or Modern Physiognomy? A Meta-Analysis

Y. Z. Foo*, C. A.M. Sutherland, N. S. Burton, S. Nakagawa, G. Rhodes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Being able to identify trustworthy strangers is a critical social skill. However, whether such impressions are accurate is debatable. Critically, the field currently lacks a quantitative summary of the evidence. To address this gap, we conducted two meta-analyses. We tested whether there is a correlation between perceived and actual trustworthiness across faces, and whether perceivers show above-chance accuracy at assessing trustworthiness. Both meta-analyses revealed significant, modest accuracy (face level, r =.14; perceiver level, r =.27). Perceiver-level effects depended on domain, with aggressiveness and sexual unfaithfulness having stronger effects than agreeableness, criminality, financial reciprocity, and honesty. We also applied research weaving to map the literature, revealing potential biases, including a preponderance of Western studies, a lack of “cross-talk” between research groups, and clarity issues. Overall, this modest accuracy is unlikely to be of practical utility. Moreover, we strongly urge the field to improve reporting standards and generalizability of the results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1580-1596
Number of pages17
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number11
Early online date5 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Award to C.A.M.S. [DE190101043], and an ARC Discovery Award to G.R. and C.A.M.S. [DP170104602], and an Australian Government Endeavour Research Fellowship to Y.Z.F. [ERF_Pdr_6537_2018], and an Early Career Research Visit Award from the School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, to Y.Z.F.. The funders had no influence on the research. We thank the original study authors for providing data on request.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


  • accuracy
  • face perception
  • meta-analysis
  • research weaving
  • trustworthiness


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