The Functional Equivalence of Morphological and Expressive Cues as Signals of Dominance and Affiliation

Project: Research project

Project Details


The faces of others provide us with a broad range of information essential to positive interactions and successful communication. Whereas some of this information, such as the sex and age of a person, is part of the relatively stable appearance characteristics of faces, other information, such as a person's emotional state or their behavioral intentions, is signaled by facial expressions. The long-term goal of the present research initiative is to examine how facial appearance and facial movement interact in determining the sorts of social messages we derive from others. Specifically, this research examines the functional equivalency between morphological facial features of dominance and affiliation (e.g., square jaw, round eyes) and emotional expressions of anger and happiness. That is, do dominant and affiliative faces elicit the same behavioral reactions as do angry and happy expressions, have the same valence as angry and happy faces, and belong to the same perceptual categories? The proposed functional equivalence of morphological and expressive cues could have important consequences for social interaction and communication in modern society. Specifically, the facial features that are perceived as indicative of dominance and affiliation are not distributed randomly in the population. Certain social groups have features that are perceptually linked more to one than the other of these two general dispositions. For instance, the cues linked to perceived dominance (e.g., square jaw, heavy eyebrows, high forehead) are more typical for men, and men are generally perceived as more dominant than are women regardless of their actual positions in society. In contrast, baby-facedness, a facial aspect more closely linked to perceived affiliation, is more common in women. Thus the tendency to perceive men as more likely to express anger and women as more likely to express happiness is therefore, at least in part, a function of the differences in facial morphology across the sexes. In addition, the research examines how changes in facial appearance with age or variations in facial appearance as a function of sex, race and various health conditions may bias or alter both the emotions and behavioral dispositions attributed to an individual. This research will contribute to the understanding of stereotypes of the elderly, and of the features that influence impression formation and interpersonal communication. The database of photographs of facial expressions will be made available to other scientists in the field, thus enhancing the basic infrastructure of research in this area.

Effective start/end date4/1/063/31/10


  • National Science Foundation: $299,903.00


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