Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

men-face

(Photo: igor.stevanovic/Shutterstock)

Looking Smart! Study Suggests Men’s Intelligence Can Be Judged by Sight

• March 31, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: igor.stevanovic/Shutterstock)

New research from the Czech Republic finds people can accurately judge intelligence by looking at faces of men, but not women.

Can you tell whether someone is smart just be looking at them? It sounds preposterous, but new research from the Czech Republic suggests you can—if the subject in question is a man.

The results of a just-published study “suggest that a perceiver can accurately gauge the real intelligence of men, but not women, by viewing their faces in photographs,” writes a research team led by Karel Kleisner of Charles University in Prague.

The study, in the journal PLoS One, reports people tend to associate certain facial traits with high intelligence. The researchers report these notions “represent nothing but a cultural stereotype,” but some still-unidentified visual cues apparently point them in the right direction.

“The strong halo effect of attractiveness may thus prevent an accurate assessment of the intelligence of women.”

The study featured 160 participants who looked at photographs of 80 Czech university students (40 men and 40 women). The images were close-ups of the students’ faces, which featured a neutral, non-smiling expression, and were devoid of jewelry and cosmetics.

Each of the pictured students completed a Czech version of the Intelligence Structure Test, which utilizes a variety of tools to measure different types of intelligence (including IQ).

Using as much time as needed, each participant rated all 80 faces for either intelligence or attractiveness, using a one-to-seven (highest to lowest) scale. The researchers then averaged the intelligence and attractiveness scores each student received.

“Our raters (men and women alike) were able to estimate intelligence with an accuracy higher than chance from static facial photographs of men, but not from photos of women,” the researchers report.

Specifically, they write, “two factors of general intelligence were significantly associated with perceived intelligence from men’s faces: fluid intelligence and figural intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the capacity to logically solve problems independent of acquired knowledge. Figurative intelligence describes the ability to handle objects such as images, patterns and shapes.”

Clearly, the research (if successfully replicated) leaves us with two big questions: What presumably unconscious mental process allows people to spot intelligence? And whatever this technique turns out to be, why doesn’t it work when we’re judging women?

The researchers rule out “shape variability” as the signal, but don’t have a good alternative answer. “We can speculate about attributions of intelligence based on particular configurations of eyes or gaze, color of eyes, hair and skin, or skin texture,” they write.

On the inability to accurately judge women’s intelligence, the researchers point to several possibilities. Perhaps, they write, cues of higher intelligence are apparent only in men’s faces “due to some genetic and developmental association to sex-steroid hormonal agents during puberty.”

“Another option is that women are pervasively judged according to their attractiveness,” they add. “The strong halo effect of attractiveness may thus prevent an accurate assessment of the intelligence of women.”

Determining the truth will require a lot of hard work by very intelligent people. Have you seen any?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.