PHYSIOGNOMY

The attempt to “read” personality from outward appearance, especially from the facial features Physiognomy is at least as old as Aristotle, who is believed to be the author of Physiognomica, a work which suggested that people who resemble certain types of animals also possess their temperamental characteristics—for instance, a bulldog indicates tenacity. He also held that races or nationalities can be typed according to appearance, suggesting that excessively dark people, such as Ethiopians, tend to be cowardly. Notions of this kind have been extremely persistent, and many systems of physiognomy have been constructed. In the eighteenth Century Johann Lava-ter developed such a system, based on ancient lore and carefully selected examples of famous men. Toward the end of the nineteenth century Cesare Lombroso proposed that criminals could be identified by certain “stigmata of degeneracy” such as small, pointed ears, low foreheads, and close-set eyes. This theory was later revived by the anthropologist Ernest Hooton, who attributed such supposed characteristics to organic inferiority and primitivism. In the first quarter of the present century systems devised by Katherine Blackford and others were widely used in personnel selection. Physiognomy has been a fertile field for quacks and charlatans, and a number of English monarchs actually outlawed the “profession.” Yet even today there is a widespread belief that people with high brows are likely to be intellectual, blondes to be fickle, redheads temperamental, and the like. Psychologists and other scientists have therefore conducted a number of careful investigations to see if there is any possible evidence for this theory. The results can be summarily stated since they are practically 100 per cent negative. Lom- broso’s theory was proved false by actual measurements made by Goring, and Hooton’s contentions were attacked by a fellow anthropologist, Alex Hr- dlicka, who carefully examined one thousand juvenile delinquents and found no significant physical differences between these offenders and groups of noncriminals. In studies made by Hollingworth (1922), Hull (1928), and Paterson (1930), attempts were made to correlate such features as height of forehead, blondness, and convexity of profile with aptitudes and personality characteristics as determined by tests or ratings made by associates. No significant correlations were found in any of these investigations.Psychologists class these physiognomic concepts as “social stereotypes” and contend that they are perpetuated notbecause they have a foundation in fact but because they are kept alive by literature, hearsay, and the desire to find some simple way of categorizing human beings. In many cases an individual may exploit a stereotype, just as Mussolini thrust forward his already prominent chin to give the impression that he was a man of power and determination. Moreover, the belief itself may have an effect on the behavior of suggestible people, especially when it is bolstered by the expectations of others. Anastasi’s comments are much to the point: “If there is a widespread belief that a person with a receding chin is weak-willed, then such a person will tend to be judged as weak-willed by his associates. Actions that might be overlooked in another will be noticed and accepted as indices of weakness in this individual ... The influence of social stereotypes may go even farther and modify the individual’s own selfpercept and his subsequent behavior development. What people expect of someone may be an important factor in determining his behavior” (1958). In other words, it is not the features themselves but the attitudes toward them that affect the personality

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "PHYSIOGNOMY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/physiognomy/ (accessed March 18, 2019).
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