First Impressions: Truth in Advertising

Predicting personality from appearance.

By Matthew Hutson, published January 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

People will judge your personality before you even open your mouth. And some of their inferences will even be right. Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and three collaborators found that just by looking at a full-body photo, the average observer can detect at least four personality traits—extroversion, openness to experience, likability, and self-esteem—significantly better than chance. The researchers also calculated which cues people relied on, such as posture and clothing, and which cues people should rely on. See below for a guide. While many signals people used were genuine indicators of character, in most cases the correlations were weak-to-moderate. So by all means use our guide to judge a book by its cover, but be prepared for a surprise ending.

The Guide

Looking away: If someone's looking away in a photo, chances are she's open to new experiences.

Smile: Grinners tend to be extroverted, empathetic, likable, high in self-esteem, and religious. (Counter to expectations, smiling says little about loneliness, emotional stability, self-discipline, or openness to experience.)

Arms behind the back: This tends to indicate likability and high self-esteem.

Neat appearance: Looking pulled together is a sign of extroversion, conventionality, and social connectedness.

Energetic stance: Appearing energetic is correlated with extroversion, likability, high self-esteem, religiosity, and lack of loneliness. (Against assumptions, it does not indicate empathy, self-discipline, emotional stability, or openness to experience.)

Healthy appearance: People who look healthy are usually extroverted, emotionally stable, likable, high in self-esteem, and not lonely. They also may be conventional and incurious.

Folded arms: Closed posture is a sign of introversion.

Distinctive appearance: People who look out of the ordinary tend to be open to new experiences but not very likable or self-disciplined. (Despite what people think, a distinctive look does not imply liberal political views.)

Stylish appearance: Style accurately advertises extro-version and social connectedness.

Tense stance: This reveals introversion, unfriendliness, neuroticism, loneliness, and lack of likability and religiosity (and only falsely suggests conventionality and low self-esteem).