Faces that are seen as competent or talented are perceived as more masculine than feminine, say researchers while noting that this can pose a threat to social justice. In the study, the team from the Princeton University in the US were interested in identifying the “visual ingredients” that influence how we perceive competence from individuals’ appearance.
They found that participants perceived more competent faces as more confident and more masculine, impressions that are not explained by attractiveness.
“Our research sheds light on the pernicious gender bias in how we perceive others — we judge masculine looking people as competent, a judgement that can affect our leadership choices,” said DongWon Oh, researcher from the varsity.
Importantly, research also showed that individuals with more competent-looking faces are more likely to be elected as high-ranking politicians such as the heads of large companies.
“Problematically, how competent someone appears does not guarantee their actual competence,” DongWon said.
“Needless to say, these gender biases pose a threat to social justice, creating unfair environments for everyone,” DongWon noted.
In an online experiment, participants involving a small group rated how competent the faces were, while others rated their attractiveness.
The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that the faces designed to look more competent were rated as such, and rated as more attractive.
Another online experiment revealed that when participants were asked to identify faces as either male or female, they tended to rate more competent faces as male and less competent faces as female.
The study suggests that competence and masculinity are correlated components of first impressions based on appearance.