Social attributions from faces: Determinants, consequences, accuracy, and functional significance

Alexander Todorov, Christopher Y. Olivola, Ron Dotsch, Peter Mende-Siedlecki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

635 Scopus citations


Since the early twentieth century, psychologists have known that there is consensus in attributing social and personality characteristics from facial appearance. Recent studies have shown that surprisingly little time and effort are needed to arrive at this consensus. Here we review recent research on social attributions from faces. Section I outlines data-driven methods capable of identifying the perceptual basis of consensus in social attributions from faces (e.g., What makes a face look threatening?). Section II describes nonperceptual determinants of social attributions (e.g., person knowledge and incidental associations). Section III discusses evidence that attributions from faces predict important social outcomes in diverse domains (e.g., investment decisions and leader selection). In Section IV, we argue that the diagnostic validity of these attributions has been greatly overstated in the literature. In the final section, we offer an account of the functional significance of these attributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-545
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual review of psychology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Attributions
  • Face evaluation
  • Face perception
  • Social perception


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