Unreliable Or Trustworthy: What Does Your Face Say About You?

Do you judge a human book by its cover? Assign people personality traits based on their faces? Better be careful if you do.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

New research highlights the risk of judging people’s characters based on their facial expressions:

Those assumptions affect how we’re treated.

For example, if we’re blessed with a welcoming expression, we’re more likely to be seen as competent and trustworthy. Therefore, we win elections, become CEOs, and bring more boys (or girls) to the yard.

Uh oh, spaghettios. This doesn’t bode well for introverts.

The Introverted Face

The article discussing this research features an example of an introverted vs. extroverted face (The Introverted Face). To avoid using their image, I’m posting one of my own. My apologies for its American Horror Story scariness. Lord knows I would never have posted such hideous self-photos in the past, but with age comes blissful indifference. And, given I’ve spent years hearing:

What’s wrong?

Are you mad?

Why so serious?

Smile, it can’t be that bad

I decided seeing the issue addressed was worth the personal embarrassment.

I warned you...

I warned you…

So, So Somber

Many times, an introvert’s natural expression is one of seriousness. Flat. Emotionless. Even frowning. We can’t help it. While our brains churn and burn, our faces fail to keep up. But according to the article, our natural expression risks others seeing us as incompetent and unreliable. Ouch.

Although we might not be able to define it, I suspect most introverts sense this over time, so we learn to adopt an extroverted mask. Or at least we try to. Some are perhaps better at it than others, because when my husband saw the above photo of my extroverted attempt, he burst out laughing.

Thanks, hon.

But our stern expressions don’t mean we’re angry. Or worried, or depressed, or ready to throw you off the building. In fact, when you get to know us—or should I say when we let you get to know us—you’ll see our faces come alive.

See? We can be fun. So elect us as politicians. Make us CEOs. Listen to our opinions.

Just don’t invite us to any parties.

Oh, one more thing. A piece of advice for you men out there, advice that might save your life. When you pass women on the street (or the hall or the breakroom), don’t tell them to smile. We don’t like that. At all. You wouldn’t tell another man to smile, would you? So please extend the courtesy to us. Otherwise, we might just throw you off that building after all…*

What’s your natural expression?

*Women, it goes both ways. We shouldn’t tell men to smile either. Unless we’re a photographer.

*     *     *

Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourgea medical thriller. For full bio, click here.

275 Responses to “Unreliable Or Trustworthy: What Does Your Face Say About You?”

  1. Sue Archer

    I have a wicked poker face as my default expression (introvert). I hear from people all the time that they thought I was a very serious person when they first met me. Then they found out they were fooled…I do have a wicked sense of humour that goes with that face! 🙂 Is it just me, or is smiling all the time very tiring? (I’m thinking I picked my avatar because I liked the look of someone who’s not smiling but looks like she’s got things going on in her head…never thought about that before, but she’s an introvert, too!)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, she does indeed look like an introvert. One who knows something the rest of us don’t. 🙂

      I think it is tiring to smile all the time when our faces aren’t naturally used to it. I look at it this way, if our face is rather flat, we might get less wrinkles…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gwen Stephens

    When I think back to my young adult bartending days, I got comments like your list above all the time, and typically from men. Drove me crazy. I don’t consider myself an introvert really, probably some middle ground between intro- and extro-, but my face doesn’t have a natural lift to it. I did discover plastering on a smile quelled the comments and earned me a few more tips, though. I try to keep that same half-smile on my face at work nowadays, too. Hopefully the kids find me a little more approachable and not just another grumpy lunch lady. 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I used to be a waitress for years and then a barmaid. I don’t think I paid much attention to my smile, but I probably did it less as a barmaid. I hated that job! But the tips were great so I stayed with it as long as I could. I try to be more aware of my expression now, but I often get so focused I forget about it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. gdkonstantine

    Carrie, of course your husband laughed. He clearly recognized that smile was really your “koala face”. (If Sheldon can’t trick Amy, you won’t be able to fool your spouse. Sorry.) On a more serious note, I’ve known many people with big showy displays of happiness who have been miserable much of the time. I would rather keep a neutral and be happy and content on the inside.

    Like

  4. aFrankAngle

    Ah ha … one of my issues … I, more on the extrovert side, but tend to look more serious … couple that with many not understanding my sense of humor. Love your line of hiring as CEO but not inviting to party.

    Like

  5. Kourtney Heintz

    I was at a marketing conference where a woman warned that not everyone’s neutral face is neutral. Some of us look angry, mean or standoffish. It’s just what our face looks like when we aren’t actively smiling or being expressive. But people read a ton into it.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I think it’s great that she raised the point. I’m much more aware of my neutral face now so I try to compensate when I’m out in public. But I wasn’t aware of it when I was younger. I wonder how many misconceptions I caused.

      Like

      • Kourtney Heintz

        It’s funny the speaker said her friends told her she had a b88ch face. And she showed us her natural neutral face and she did look mean and unapproachable. I often make faces when I’m thinking so if i happen to be thinking about something that upset me, oh nasty face.

        Like

  6. Andrea Stephenson

    Oh yes, I can’t count the times someone has said to me ‘cheer up, it might never happen…’ On the other hand everyone always tells me how calm and easy going I am – they don’t see the little duck legs paddling like mad beneath the surface…

    Like

  7. Lori D

    Hmm, I’ve never thought about my natural expression. I like to blame my expressions on being Italian. For me, whichever emotion is in there at the present, it’s usually a passionate one and obvious to detect on my face.

    Having tested for the scale continuum of introvert to extravert, I land right smack dab in the middle. It figures, since I’m a Libra … strives for balance. 🙂

    You Introverts make good writers because you stand behind the scenes and people-watch more than extroverts. People watching is great fodder for fiction.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That it is. As long as we look up enough from our book, or paper, or whatever we’re engaged in to notice the people. 😉

      But now you’ve got me thinking. You mentioned your Italian heritage plays into your expressions. Hmm, I have stoic Russian and German in my blood. Well, that might explain a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. wiseabundance

    This post made me feel so much better about my facial expressions. I get asked the same questions, and told to smile. I like your notion that are brains are going so fast that our faces can’t keep up. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It makes me wonder about the perceptions people have had of me over the years that were completely off base. In fact, it makes me shudder. :/

      Like

  9. Amy Reese

    I can totally relate to this, Carrie. I’ve often had people ask me what’s wrong? That’s just me churning away inside trying to figure something out or process something. Typically, I think people put too much trust into the outward appearance, considering a person could be all smiles, and NOT be okay inside just as easily. Great post!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s a great point about some people being all smiles on the outside but unhappy on the inside. So who are they smiling for. Us? Is that fair to demand that of them? I think not.

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Diane Henders

    Ha! You made me chuckle with your ‘extrovert’ face! I think maybe you need to work on the eyes – it’s that expression of ‘oh-please-let-this-be-over’ that gives you away. 😉

    My default expression is a smile, but it took a lot of work. When I was young the kids I babysat used to ask why I was so sad (I later determined that I hated babysitting, so that was probably part of it).

    But one day I saw a middle-aged woman with the most beautiful smile lines crinkled around her eyes, and right on the spot I decided that’s what I wanted to look like when I got to her age.

    It took years of practice (and yes, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I spent a lot of time smiling at myself in the mirror), but I got the habitual smile and the smile lines I wanted. I also developed the habit of smiling at myself in the mirror, so I guess that’s not bad. Unless somebody catches you doing it… but I don’t mind people worrying about whether I’m a psychopath. They tend to be more respectful that way.

    (I also have killer frown lines in my forehead. I’m not sure where they came from because I really try not to frown, but at least now I can give a truly fearsome stink-eye when necessary.)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I have the frown lines (and thankfully the bangs to cover them) but not much in the way of smile lines. My brother and I joke about our naturally frowning faces and how we end up with less wrinkles that way. I’ve never actively practiced smiling. I just be sure to try to put on a welcoming face when I go out in public (though I must admit, I don’t make much effort for trips to the store and such). I wonder if I more actively practiced it if I’d get to a point like you where it becomes more natural. Then again, that would require effort on my part. Oh, the pressure, the pressure…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Nicole Roder

    LOL! Great post! I’m not an introvert (or at least I don’t think so), but I can’t stand it when people tell me to smile! It’s also so annoying when people ask what’s wrong when there is NOTHING WRONG.

    Like

      • Nicole Roder

        You know, I’m really not sure! I think I’m introverted in some situations, and extroverted in others. Like, I go shopping and instantly make friends with the clerk, I smile and say hello to strangers all the time. But I feel REALLY uncomfortable at parties, and I’m often the last to speak up in a group discussion if I don’t know everyone in the group. But then again, if I do know the people, I’m a huge loudmouth. LOL! Is there such thing as an introvert/extrovert?

        Like

  12. Exile on Pain Street

    I believe that sizing someone up based on first glance is something so primal and so locked into our DNA that we can’t be faulted for it. It’s part of the human condition. Poor Kristen Stewart always has that dour puss. I’m sure she’s perfectly charming. And look at the bright side…she’s formed a major career with that look.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Good point about first impressions being part of our makeup. I think that’s very true and likely serves a healthy purpose, as in, “That guy looks like a wacko. Steer clear of him.”

      I always use Kristen Stewart as my example of a celebrity introvert. She definitely has a “dour puss,” so much so that I think it hinders her acting. I know I could never be an actor. My face isn’t expressive enough. Oh, yeah, and I can’t act…

      Like

      • Exile on Pain Street

        How does someone with Stewart’s disposition gravitate towards acting in the first place? Have you ever seen her interviewed? It seems to cause her great pain. You’d think she’d be an actuary accountant instead.

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        • Carrie Rubin

          Haha, I’m not sure. I’ve heard there are a lot of shy actors out there. I suppose there are a lot of introverted ones too. They’re just better actors than Stewart and can hide it better, I guess.

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            • Carrie Rubin

              I think we can all break out of our natural tendencies on a professional level. I’m an introvert, but I had no trouble seeing patients all day, rounding with students and residents, going to meetings, etc. When you’re doing what you enjoy and you get to know the people around you, it’s easy to cross over. But then you want your me-time once you get home. I’m sure Springsteen loves performing and singing so much, it transcends all other feelings.

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  13. frederick anderson

    What does my face say about me? ‘Needs help’ about covers it.

    I think your introverted face looks more interesting, more intriguing. Nothing is more artificial than an artificial smile. To wear your heart upon your sleeve isn’t a good idea, and our faces shouldn’t have to keep up with all our inner thoughts – better not, in most cases!

    What’s a little scary, though, is the relationship that is growing between certain facial ‘types’ and career success. Have you noticed how all politicians are beginning to look exactly alike? Broad mouth, lantern jaw, wide-set eyes….

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Absolutely. And I imagine many politicians are extroverts. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we only elect people we think would be fun to have a beer with, we miss out on the quieter ones who may be great thinkers and problem solvers. Unfortunately, the introverts probably don’t campaign as well. Mingling with constituents is likely more difficult for them, and they probably come off as aloof. Critics criticize Obama for this. I think he’s likely an introvert, and that’s we he takes some of the personal heat. Hmm, maybe President Obama should read my blog… 😉

      Like

  14. acflory

    I think I developed an alter ego that could get on with people in most situations – except parties. What is it about parties that’s so /hard/?

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I think for me parties are difficult because there’s always so much small talk, something introverts are not very good at. If I can connect with someone at a party and have a deeper conversation, then I can enjoy myself more. Unfortunately, so many of the deeper subjects are off limits–politics, gun control, etc. So I just have to grin and discuss the weather or hear about family anecdotes. That’s one of the reasons I like my bookclub. It gets me out to socialize, but we have a clear topic to discuss. Books. Yay!

      Like

      • acflory

        lmao – YES! That’s exactly it. I’m never bored in normal circumstances, but parties bore me to tears because deep and meaningful conversations are essentially verboten. If there’s dancing I’m ok but otherwise…. wallflower.

        My online games seem to serve the same function as your book club. We don’t socialize face to face but we do chat constantly online about the thing that drew us together – the game. Works for me. 😀

        Like

  15. memyselfandkids.com

    I can’t tell you how many times I have been told to smile more. Even when I was a kid – uggh. Anyway, I do wish I was more naturally smiley. People sometimes think I’m in a bad mood when I’m not at all. I think it would help me to be more smiley but it’s not my way. I believe the research you quoted.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      “People sometimes think I’m in a bad mood when I’m not at all.”—Yep. I hear you on that one.

      A couple other men have commented that they’ve been told to smile by others, too. I didn’t realize men experienced this. I figured it was mostly women since it seems to be common belief that women should naturally be more smiling and outgoing. I’m sure it happens to them more, but it’s good for me to learn this isn’t a gender-specific thing. Either way, it’s annoying to be told to smile…

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Joanna Aislinn

    I’m sure my mood impacts my “look of the moment”, but I’m most likely the EF version. A few months ago, though, I posted a photo in which I (thought) I smiled, but a smaller, no teeth visible version. Can’t tell you how many folks commented on why I looked ‘mad.’ Guess it’s in the eye of that beholder, huh?

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That it is. I can be perfectly content and happy on the inside but look like a depressed (or angry) sadsack on the outside. I really must perfect my mask. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joanna Aislinn

        Eh, no law about perfecting the mask, so I’m thinking you’re good 🙂 .

        Problem with the EF: folks figure they can approach you any time, with little regard for what I might be involved in at the moment. I’m very bad with saying, “It’s not a good time.” It is what it is, right?

        Like

  17. scatterwisdom

    A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.*Proverb 15:13)

    There are a number of proverbs written three thousand years ago about how a wise man would judge a person by a facial expression.

    I liked your article because wiseman still do make judgements about other people by the expression on their face, a signal or peek into both their hearts and spirit. A good actor can mask their facial expression for a while, but over time, a wise man will judge the truth of a person’s state of mind and spirit by their facial expression.

    Moral of the story is as the song goes, try not to worry, be happy.

    Regards and good will blogging.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I do think there is utility in gauging one’s feelings based on their body language. Unfortunately, for those of us who tend to keep to ourselves in public and are often deep in thought, we can come off looking like there’s something wrong when on the contrary, we may be perfectly content inside. I guess it just means we need to be careful of our assumptions. Which goes for all aspects of communication, really.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • scatterwisdom

        Good point. Perhaps it may help if we engage in deep personal thoughts in private quite time instead of walking around at work with a heavy heart appearing on our facial expressions..At work, only engage in positive thoughts that will please the boss.

        Regards and good will blogging..

        re

        Liked by 1 person

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