Judging a Book by Its Cover: the Study of Physiognomy

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Physiognomy, the assessment of a person's personality by their outward appearance, is literally translated as "nature-judge." Although some might assume this seemingly shallow judgement of character would be a new invention by our appearance-driven society, physiognomy has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Greeks. Today physiognomy is considered a pseudoscience, with no real evidence backing it up. However, it is still often used by people all over the world. As recently as 2011, a South Korean news agency published an analysis of Kim Jong-Un's features. Everyday people employ physiognomy almost every day. How many times have you thought that someone with sharp cheekbones seemed mean, or someone that was overweight was lazy? It's these kind of stereotype-backed judgements that drive everyday physiognomy that people often rely on as a basic human instinct. One area in which physiognomy has a larger influence than most of us would probably like to think is politics. The article found at outlines how Mitt Romney would have an advantage over Newt Gingrich as a presidential nominee because of his square jawline and high cheekbones, which voters equate with "competence" and have been historic indicators of winning candidates. Some studies even suggest that voters look for different features in war times vs. what they look for when the nation is at peace.

So what should we make of this tendency of people to judge a book by its cover? Should we be concerned that people make important decisions, including who should run the country, based on physiognomy? I'm not exactly sure, but you can take this information at "face value."

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Judging a Book by Its Cover: the Study of Physiognomy - PSY 1001 Spring 2012 Section 014 and 015 Read More


Very interesting post! I was not aware that this type of judgement of character has been utilized for thousands of years. That's crazy! I think everybody is guilty of judging people based solely on appearance. It's the natural thing to do. The minute we see someone we do not know, we make a quick snap judgement about their personality.
It's amazing how seriously we can consider our "snap judgements" to be real. This is clearly evident in the example you mention about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. It's scary to think that there are probably a lot of Americans out there that will support a candidate simply due to the judgement they make about their appearance. Maybe it's because we're always looking for the easy, quick solution and making a judgement of someone is just that, a quick evaluation that fits our time constraints.
There are other examples of "judging a book by its cover" in todays world, such as Susan Boyle. As people saw Susan walk on stage they immediately doubted her talents because of her appearance.

Check out the video of her audition:

Thanks for the post!

Just as judging a book by its cover can be a mistake, the same goes for people. This blog post particularly interested me because I know that I fall victim to this all the time. When I first meet someone, I make quick judgments based on what I see… but in many cases my assumptions are wrong. This is the fault of physiognomy, and why people should keep from making such assumptions based on appearance. One might dislike a person as a result of their own assumptions, which are rarely 100% correct. I know I have been surprised on many occasions when someone is opposite of what I took them to be. If America was to choose a president based on looks, there is a high probability that people would be disappointed by his or her actions in office. I would agree in that everyone suffers from this problem, as it is impossible to avoid.

I came across an interesting article that discusses the physiognomy of women. This article clearly has no reputable sources and appears to just be a list of characteristics and their meanings that someone came up with. For example, “A red colored tongue indicates a lucky women”. According to my observations, most tongues are red. So doesn’t that make all women lucky? Either way, I think in many cases physiognomy is used as a form of ‘entertainment’, like horoscopes. It would be very interesting to actually study the psychology behind physiognomy to get valid and reliable evidence supporting such claims.

As we know, our visual sense is linked with brain system. Therefore, our understandings or judgments are influenced from the world that we see. Although the sentence seems our brain is controlled by our perception, it does not mean we only rely on the eyes. In other words, it is not one-directional way but the bi-directional. Physiognomy that you referred as the tendency of people to judge a book by its cover should not be always considered negatively but carefully used. Physiognomy cannot be the reasonable or plausible sense of judgment. It can be biased no matter how we try to remove our prejudiced perspective. This is why most of business companies in U.S. do not request applicants to post their ID picture on their resume.
It will be really hard to avoid or deny we are not judging others by their appearances. But we should notice it is inappropriate judgment. I think the reasonable level of judgment from physiognomy should be remained as cue of figuring out facial expressions or the mood of whom we meet.

Briefly, I would say physiognomy isn't valid enough to use for making the important decision.

Like many others, I too am guilty of this. Just as often as I "judge a book by its cover",I judge people by how they look. I don't mean to do this, but it just naturally happens. I cannot even tell you how many times I have judged a person by how they looked. The example you gave was quite excellent about how someone with particular facial features appears to be "mean"; I have made this claim myself. Though I hate that I do this, I think that these kinds of judgement are embedded within society. Unfortunately, it is not something that we can really change anytime soon. Though people use physiognomy when making important political decisions, I don't think that it should become too much of concern since there are other people around to correct our mistakes. At least, I hope this happens with regards to making decisions that are detrimental to our society. Whenever I make these judgments, I am so thankful that I have the type of friends and family that will correct me when I am mistaken. I only hope that people like my friends have to power and will to correct people's mistakes in the face of big and important decisions.

I don't think that anyone should feel guilty about this tendency. What I think is important is how one follows up with these initial judgements. I am very judgmental. This is something that I have accepted about myself and many others, though they may not be so openly aware. This, though, does not mean that am close-minded. My judgement will change after hearing what people have to say and seeing how they act. Sure, my judgements may create biases but using ones critical thinking, they can be ignored and a person's true essence may be revealed. Like I said, I don't think that these judgements should be the concern. What should be concerning is the public's inability to think critically, putting looks aside or any other surface features.

Of course, a person's look tend to be made by the person's way of life. However, the physiognomy is not always correct. For example, even though a person has a nice first impression, the person could be a criminal. Also, a person who has scary face can be a nice person. Therefore, let's not judge a book by its cover.

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This page contains a single entry by giers003 published on April 18, 2012 7:09 PM.

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