Humans often judge other people’s personality based on superficial characteristics such as the shape of their face or their facial expression. There was even a time when some psychologists believed that personality could be predicted by measuring the human skull (phrenology). But of course this is nonsense. Or is it?
In a recent article in the journal PLoS ONEKarel Kleisner from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and his colleagues found that humans perceive individuals with a long face, sharp chin, larger nose, broader distance between the eyes, and slightly upturned edges of the mouth as more intelligent than individuals with the opposite facial characteristics. Not much of a surprise here. That is what humans do. Make quick judgements of human characteristics based on the cues they have available. However, the surprising finding was that the perception was accurate to a certain degree: those who were perceived as more intelligent in fact were. But this was only the case for men. There was no relationship between perceived and measured intelligence in women. Moreover, extremely intelligent men were perceived as less intelligent. There is an outline of the study on the PsyBlog.
Interestingly enough the authors of the study seem to be more concerned about finding an explanation for why there is NO relationship between perceived intelligence in women than they are in finding one for why there IS such a relationship in men. Thus, further backing up of this study might be necessary. However, what might be of practical interest to our readers are some findings the authors report alongside their key findings. Smiling faces are perceived as more intelligent than angry faces and perceived intelligence is also associated to perceived trustworthiness. Thus, smiling will make you appear more intelligent and trustworthy to others!
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Two weeks ago we learned that 90 percent of people will cheat if they believe they will not get caught and that integrity is not stable, but rather depends on the circumstances. Thus, when intending to prevent dishonest or otherwise undesirable behaviour, employers can either select employees who are less prone to fall for the temptations of a situation or they can change the tempting circumstances. The latter does not seem to be as difficult as one might think.
An article by Wharton professor Adam Grant gives a few examples of such changes and their effectiveness. When stealing occurs in a company, managers often decide to install surveillance systems such as cameras. This can work, as a study by Lamar Pierce from Washington University in St. Louis shows. This, however, might backfire because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust. What Grant suggests is to take a closer look at why the undesirable behaviour happens. He cites a study by Gary Latham from the University of Toronto in which researchers were asked to find a way to reduce theft in a forest products company. Camera surveillance had been installed, but this had led to an increase in theft rates and employees even started stealing the surveillance cameras. What Latham did was find out why employees were stealing, and it turned out that they did it solely for the kick they got out of it. Therefore what the company did was establish a loan policy: employees could borrow whatever they wanted. This resulted in dropping theft rates and also in the return of previously “borrowed” material.
Latham concluded from his finding that stealing can, on the one hand, be dealt with by increasing the cost of stealing, but it can also be prevented by reducing the benefits of stealing. In the present study, it was the kick employees got out of stealing that suddenly was not there anymore after the loan system had been introduced. This is a good example of how a change of circumstances lead to a change in employees’ behavior.