Inferring the preferences of others from spontaneous, low-emotional facial expressions

Michael S. North, Alexander Todorov, Daniel N. Osherson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The present study investigates whether people can infer the preferences of others from spontaneous facial expressions alone. We utilize a paradigm that unobtrusively records people's natural facial reactions to relatively mundane stimuli while they simultaneously report which ones they find more appealing. Videos were then presented to perceivers who attempted to infer the choices of the target individuals-thereby linking perceiver inferences to objective outcomes. Perceivers demonstrated above-chance ability to infer target preferences across four different stimulus categories: people (attractiveness), cartoons (humor), paintings (decorative appeal), and animals (cuteness). While perceivers' subjective ratings of expressivity varied somewhat between targets, these ratings did not predict the relative "readability" of the targets. The findings suggest that noncommunicative, natural facial behavior by itself suffices for certain types interpersonal prediction, even in low-emotional contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1109-1113
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Accuracy
  • Face perception
  • Facial expressions
  • Social cognition


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