Face Reading


Face reading began with the ancients of China and Greece: a Chinese Emperor “improved” his portrait to deceive and win over his subjects; Aristotle believed in reading personality from facial features; Greek philosophers considered symmetry and proportionality the ideal in esthetic beauty. In the 18th century, Lavater’s physiognomy suggested humans whose faces resembled certain animals carried those animal traits. (Predator faces, like lions and hawks, represent courage or aggressiveness, prey-like faces, like sheep, passivity or weakness.) Although physiognomy is now considered a pseudoscience, it offers interesting insights about bias formation. (See archetypes below.)


Mian Xiang Chinese Face Reading is based on empirical observations of perhaps millions of subjects over thousands of years, to see if specific facial structures correlated with physical and personality traits. It notes, for example, strong noses predict financial prowess; strong chins, good quality of life, prominent cheekbones, boldness. Again, by Western standards, such conclusions are unscientific, but some believe that with sufficient numbers studied, many correlations could be valid. More plausible predictors of fitness (by Western standards) are the texture and structure of the face, according to Chinese Medicine: robust contours, ruddy complexion, healthy glow or “Qi”.

Chinese Face Reading Archetypes that represent traits like Sage, Hero or Care Giver correlate with (Western) Jungian personality archetypes—lending credence to the notion that facial types representing these traits may be suggestive and influential in trait development—what a current faces investigator at Princeton has called “self-fulfilling prophecies”. Indeed, the once discredited Lavater “theories” positing that humans perceive “animal” facial types in other humans may be an actual basis of bias and racism.

Western models of beauty have dominated—until now. John Clees’ and the BBC’s wonderful book The Human Face traces the history of how classical Roman, Greek and later other European models became the norm and ideal for facial types and individual features. The Greek “Golden Mean”, a mathematical ratio, seems to recur in pleasing and harmonious structures, whether in architecture or art and has persisted into theories of human facial esthetics. However, a universal “esthetic mask” composed of geometric shapes that conform to the face has been found to “fit” faces considered “beautiful” across all human ethnicities—spanning both East and West.

Practical face reading occurs everyday when we size each other up at every social encounter. The face is the projection screen of our identity, health and personality. What we project is our overall presentation: appearance, including neatness and hygiene, health and vitality—or lack thereof, and attitude, including body language and voice, indicating confidence and friendliness or fear, sadness or other negative emotions. So we are all face and person readers, looking for clues: is this the right friend, mate, employee, or business associate? Initial impressions may be lasting strong but closer and repeated looks are more telling. Exciting new technology described in Faces Tell All may accelerate the process. Read on.