Do facial first impressions reflect a shared social reality?

Clare A. M. Sutherland (Corresponding Author), Gillian Rhodes, Nichola S. Burton, Andrew W. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Influential facial impression models have repeatedly shown that trustworthiness, youthful–attractiveness, and dominance dimensions subserve a wide variety of first impressions formed from strangers’ faces, suggestive of a shared social reality. However, these models are built from impressions aggregated across observers. Critically, recent work has now shown substantial inter‐observer differences in facial impressions, raising the important question of whether these dimensional models based on aggregated group data are meaningful at the individual observer level. We addressed this question with a novel case series approach, using factor analyses of ratings of twelve different traits to build individual models of facial impressions for different observers. Strikingly, three dimensions of trustworthiness, youthful/attractiveness, and competence/dominance appeared across the majority of these individual observer models, demonstrating that the dimensional approach is indeed meaningful at the individual level. Nonetheless, we also found differences in the stability of the competence/dominance dimension across observers. Taken together, results suggest that individual differences in impressions arise in the context of a largely common structure that supports a shared social reality.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Early online date29 Mar 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Mar 2019



  • face perception
  • first impressions
  • individual differences

Cite this