Do facial first impressions reflect a shared social reality?

Clare A. M. Sutherland* (Corresponding Author), Gillian Rhodes, Nichola S. Burton, Andrew W. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Influential facial impression models have repeatedly shown that trustworthiness, youthful–attractiveness, and dominance dimensions subserve a wide variety of first impressions formed from strangers’ faces, suggestive of a shared social reality. However, these models are built from impressions aggregated across observers. Critically, recent work has now shown substantial inter‐observer differences in facial impressions, raising the important question of whether these dimensional models based on aggregated group data are meaningful at the individual observer level. We addressed this question with a novel case series approach, using factor analyses of ratings of twelve different traits to build individual models of facial impressions for different observers. Strikingly, three dimensions of trustworthiness, youthful/attractiveness, and competence/dominance appeared across the majority of these individual observer models, demonstrating that the dimensional approach is indeed meaningful at the individual level. Nonetheless, we also found differences in the stability of the competence/dominance dimension across observers. Taken together, results suggest that individual differences in impressions arise in the context of a largely common structure that supports a shared social reality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-232
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date29 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Award to CS [DE 190101043], the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders [CE110001021], and an ARC Discovery Award [DP170104602]. The funding sources had no influence on the research.


  • face perception
  • first impressions
  • individual differences


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