Adults’ facial impressions of children’s niceness, but not shyness, show modest accuracy

Jemma R Collova* (Corresponding Author), Clare Sutherland, Linda Jeffery, Ellen Bothe, Gillian Rhodes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Lay wisdom warns against “judging a book by its cover.” However, facial first impressions influence people’s behaviour towards others, so it is critical that we understand whether these impressions are at all accurate. Understanding impressions of children’s faces is particularly important because these impressions can have social consequences during a crucial time of development. Here, we examined the accuracy of two traits that capture the most variance in impressions of children’s faces, niceness and shyness. We collected face images and parental reports of actual niceness/shyness for 86 children (4–11 years old). Different images of the same person can lead to different impressions, and so we employed a novel approach by obtaining impressions from five images of each child. These images were ambient, representing the natural variability in faces. Adult strangers rated the faces for niceness (Study 1) or shyness (Study 2). Niceness impressions were modestly accurate for different images of the same child, regardless of whether these images were presented individually or simultaneously as a group. Shyness impressions were not accurate, for images presented either individually or as a group. Together, these results demonstrate modest accuracy in adults’ impressions of niceness, but not shyness, from children’s faces. Furthermore, our results reveal that this accuracy can be captured by images which contain natural face variability, and holds across different images of the same child’s face. These results invite future research into the cues and causal mechanisms underlying this link between facial impressions of niceness and nice behaviour in children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2328-2347
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number12
Early online date23 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the parents and children who helped make this research possible. We would also like to thank Romina Palermo for providing us the opportunity to contact her sample of parent and child participants, and to use some of her existing data. Finally, we would like to thank the examiners who provided thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this paper presented in a thesis. JC, CS, LJ and GR conceived the study and edited the manuscript. JC programmed the experiment, collected undergraduate participant data, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the first manuscript. EB coordinated image collection. All authors participated in the study design, and read and approved the final manuscript.
Funding: This research was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence Grant award to GR [CE110001021], ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award to CS [DE190101043], ARC Discovery Award to GR and CS [DP170104602], ARC Discovery Award to LJ [DP140101743] and a Research Training Program Stipend to JC.


  • Accuracy
  • face perception
  • first impressions
  • children’s faces


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