Facial First Impressions Across Culture: Data-Driven Modeling of Chinese and British Perceivers’ Unconstrained Facial Impressions

Clare AM Sutherland* (Corresponding Author), Xizi Liu, Lingshan Zhang, Yingtung Chu, Julian A Oldmeadow, Andrew Young

*Corresponding author for this work

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People form first impressions from facial appearance rapidly, and these impressions can have considerable social and economic consequences. Three dimensions can explain Western perceivers’ impressions of Caucasian faces: approachability, youthful-attractiveness and dominance. Impressions along these dimensions are theorized to be based on adaptive cues to threat detection or sexual selection, making it likely that they are universal. We tested whether the same dimensions of facial impressions emerge across culture by building data-driven models of first impressions of Asian and Caucasian faces derived from Chinese and British perceivers’ unconstrained judgments. We then cross-validated the dimensions with computer- generated average images. We found strong evidence for common approachability and youthful-attractiveness dimensions across perceiver and face race, with some evidence of a third dimension akin to capability. The models explained ~75% of the variance in facial impressions. In general, the findings demonstrate substantial cross-cultural agreement in facial impressions, especially on the most salient dimensions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-537
Number of pages17
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number4
Early online date10 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) doctoral scholarship (ES/I900748/1), postdoctoral funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders (CE110001021) to C.A.M.S., and an ARC Discovery grant (DP170104602) to C.A.M.S. and A.W.Y. Funding sources had no influence on the research. Portions of the research appeared in C.A.M.S.’s doctoral thesis and in L.Z.’s master’s thesis, both at the University of York.

Supplementary material is available online with this article.


  • impression formation
  • face perception
  • person perception
  • social cognition
  • cross-cultural


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