In terms of human percecption,what are the traits of a "friendly face"?
April 27, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I have always been fascinated by the comment that someone has a "friendly face". But, my question is this: what are the physical traits that make a human face be perceived as "friendly"? Are there any social psychology studies out there that have looked into this issue? What is your own theory on this?
posted by jacobean to Human Relations (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
To me, it's someone who looks you in the eye. Other than that, I would say smiling, having laugh line wrinkles, stuff like that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:36 AM on April 27, 2013

I went to high school with a kid that I just thought looked mean. He had low eyebrows and his eyes didn't seem to have any creases or anything when he smiled. His natural expression was one that looked aggravated. I heard a friend of his teasing him one day, saying he looked angry all the time and he tried to smile about it, bit it was true.

I don't think most people are deemed unfriendly or friendly on their natural expressions though. For most people, I think it comes from smiling, body language that is welcoming and being willing to look people in the eye. Low eyebrows vs. raised ones, relaxes mouth vs. tight pursed lips, open stance vs. arms folded. All of that.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:57 AM on April 27, 2013

My theory is that, setting aside everything that has to do with demeanor (which I completely agree is the most important thing) it's features we associate with children and with cuteness and with vulnerability, as opposed to aggression, strength, threat, or even overt sexuality.

To me this would be:

Large, wide set eyes (probably the most important).
Small forehead (as opposed to a furrowed or neanderthal-ish brow on the one hand or a high, rounded forehead on the other)
lack of dramatic facial hair, including very dark or heavy eyebrows
Roundish cheeks (as opposed to high cheekbones)
Disproportionately large ears, especially ones that stick out- it's a childlike look
Small, even teeth
Ordinary or small (as opposed to strong) jaw.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:50 AM on April 27, 2013

I would define it as having a soft or tender expression in the eyes, or even a brightness or "wide eyes", kind of thing to them. I think your true emotions are betrayed by the eyes, that's why you can tell if someone's being sincere (you tend to look for clues in the eyes) or faking a smile (a combination of the eyes, and how relaxed the muscles in the face seem). There's info out there on how human beings subconsciously pick up on little nuances in the face, that tell if emotions are genuine or not.

So someone who smiles a lot but has no feeling behind it would not come off as friendly, as opposed to someone who really means it.
posted by readygo at 10:52 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wide eyes--wait, let me reclassify that as to not imply the white, round eye look--eyes with a soft look to them. A squinty, hard glare typically implies the opposite of friendliness. Smiling features even if the person is not smiling. I have a mouth that appears downturned when my lips are closed, so I try to part my lips when I'm not smiling to try to mitigate the frowny appearance.
posted by Eicats at 12:06 PM on April 27, 2013

Highly dependent on gender/race/class.

I have such a face (to my chagrin - the stories people will tell me on public transit!). pretentious illiterate has it right -- for women, at least, a very friendly face is often a childlike one, particularly a youthful one. I have the misfortune of having a cherubic face: I have a symmetrical, chubby face. Almost zero forehead, pouty lips (my default expression is completely involuntary duck face and I smile quite a bit due to female conditioning), very big eyes, actually unusually tiny ears in my case and freckles. The demeanor plays a role, I am sure: my voice is very high pitched for somebody in their mid-thirties. As a result, I don't laugh, I giggle. I think it's funny when people get to know me and figure out that I'm nowhere near as dumb as I seem (and also not stoned, as those who've read my writing before meeting me assume). I'm just chubby and very girlish. This seems to read as trust worthy and friendly. Makes for lots of dental hygienists telling me how Buddha taps them on the shoulder while they meditate in the car and people I've just met telling me that their marriages are unraveling and they can't hold on. It's like I have a face that says, "no matter who you are or what's going on, tell me your crazy tales! These big fluffy cheeks will listen!" (And, yeah, I'm in my 30's and still getting carded for R-rated movies. My eternal youth is starting to feel ridiculous.)

My husband also has this kind of face/social pattern, but I have a theory that the Universal Friendly Face (caucasian edition) requirements are different for men. My husband is chosen as a confidant more for being an earnest and emotionally available adult -- and perhaps for being a bit feminine. First physically: He has raffish curly hair that is pretty much free range jewfro, and has long eye lashes with eyes that are generally kind but which register also many other emotions. He is very earnest looking, has a skinny face but is always giving a big, crooked smile or almost comically expressive eyebrows when he's upset. He wears his vulnerability and emotional availability on his sleeve; this is a good part of what attracted me to him. He has no trouble making friends who are women and seems to do well with that. I think being a bit more feminine makes him unthreatening and easy to connect with. His own weak chin/jaw probably helps, too. He's always felt like a warm, approachable person to me. People tell him weird stories out of the blue as well! We're both cursed.
posted by sweltering at 12:57 PM on April 27, 2013

I agree with readygo that we subconsciously pick up micro-cues from people's expressions, particularly the eyes. We convey a lot of information through constant, microscopic eye movements and barely perceptible facial expressions. As well, I think we pick up information subconsciously from where people direct their gaze (besides the obvious ways, that is) and how long they hold a particular gaze, etc.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2013

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