Flexible first impressions: dimensions for children's faces are not the same as for adults' faces

Date & time

4–5pm 4 December 2018


Peter Baume Building 42A Room 2.01


Jemma Collova PhD Candidate at the University of Western Australia

Despite warnings not to “judge a book by its cover”, people rapidly form first impressions from a glimpse of a face. In Oosterhof and Todorov’s (2008) influential model of facial impressions, two dimensions (trustworthiness and dominance) underlie impressions. To date, theory has conceptualized these dimensions as functional because together they signal the potential threat of others. Here, I provide the first test of this underlying functional assumption by considering whether the same dimensions apply to a population of faces for whom it would not be adaptive to assess threat, namely children’s faces. A functional approach would predict that the child-face dimensions are not threat focused. In five studies, I find robust evidence that adults’ impressions of children’s faces are evaluated on the dimensions of niceness (comparable to trustworthiness) and shyness (dissociable from dominance). These results suggest that social goals have the power to drive functional impressions, and highlight the flexibility of the visual system when forming impressions. In the second part of this talk, I examine the potential behavioural consequences of these impressions and test whether they are accurate.


Jemma is a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia. Her PhD research is about the first impressions we form from faces. She is particularly interested in how adults form impressions of children, the behavioural consequences of these impressions, and whether any accuracy underlies such impressions. She is supervised by Prof Gillian Rhodes, Dr Clare Sutherland and Dr Linda Jeffery. Jemma is currently working in Canberra as part of a 5month APRinternship with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. 

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