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Face Reading, Analyzed: Everything You Ever Needed to Know

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Thousands of participants1 submitted images of their faces alongside a personality test. The result? Random people could accurately guess certain personality traits, suggesting we can intuitively read faces based on their features. In this article, we’ll go over a few different ways to read a look. Some are backed by science, others less so.

What is Face Reading?

Face reading, also known as physiognomy, interprets an individual’s facial features to gain insights into their personality, emotions, and potential future experiences. 

Many believe we can understand a person by looking at their face. One survey2 of undergraduates in the 1970s found that 90% of students thought the front was a valid guide to character. Another study2 in 2000 saw the number to be about 75%. 

We can’t help but make assumptions about people because of their faces. For example, people assume adults with “baby faces3” are more innocent and trustworthy.

Further research4 suggests that specific faces look good to us because they are familiar, they match our attractiveness levels, and we perceive the other person’s hormone levels and fertility. 

Is Face-Reading a Scientific Practice or Pseudoscience?

Several cultures have been practicing models of face-reading for centuries. However, traditional face-reading practices fall under the pseudoscience5 category, meaning the claims don’t pass the scientific method. We’ll still explore these methods in this article, and you can be the judge of what you think of them.

There are also modern approaches to face reading that have more scientific credibility. Face reading has also become more salient in recent years because of advances in AI technology6 around understanding facial expressions.

If you like the idea of face reading, then you might also be intrigued by the power of reading body language. Check out the link below, where Vanessa Van Edwards breaks down everything you need about charismatic communication.

Unlock the Secrets of Charisma

Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.

Breaking Down Different Scientific Face Reading Techniques

Through various scientific studies, we can make educated guesses on what certain facial features tell us about a person. 

None of these are 100% accurate all the time, but rather patterns that tend to emerge over many people. 

So, because someone might have a feature on the list below, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll possess the related personality trait.

Facial Symmetry

Several studies2 tried to map face symmetry7 onto the Big 5 personality test.

Here’s what they found.

  • Symmetrical face = more extroverted. People with balanced faces enjoy social engagement and feel more engaged by external rather than internal stimuli.
  • Asymmetrical face = more open. Openness refers to a willingness to explore new ideas and experiences and an appreciation for art and imagination.
  • Asymmetrical face = more agreeable. Agreeableness reflects a tendency to be compassionate, cooperative, and empathetic toward others.

(It should be noted that multiple studies confirmed the link between face symmetry and extroversion, though there were mixed results on linking asymmetrical faces with openness and agreeableness).

Male faces with lots of testosterone

One study8 measured the ratio of width to height on male faces, and here’s what they found:

Wide faces = aggression and status-striving. 

The researchers found that a large width-to-height ratio on male faces correlated with aggressive behavior and a strong desire to pursue status, whereas oblong faces correlated the opposite.

Researchers assumed that this link was a reflection of testosterone levels.

Researchers9 have also found that when males have high levels of testosterone, it shows up in their faces in different ways. On the other hand, high testosterone in males is linked to several different personality traits10,mediated%20by%20attachment%2Drelated%20avoidance..

Males with high testosterone tend to have:

  • Big, square jaw
  • Prominent brow ridge (the bone above the eyebrow sticks out)
  • High cheekbones
  • Thin lips
  • Tall forehead

Males with these features tend to:

  • Have strong immune systems
  • Be avoidant in romantic relationships
  • Feel lonely
  • Act dominantly
  • Take financial risks11

Female faces with lots of estrogen

When females have high estrogen levels, it also shows up in their faces differently and is linked with several personality traits.

Females with high estrogen tend to have:

  • Full lips
  • Smooth skin12
  • Round faces
  • Small noses
  • Small chins

Females with these features tend to be:

  • Empathetic and emotionally sensitive
  • Verbally articulate
  • Sociable

Reading microexpressions to understand someone’s emotions

Another modern and scientifically backed approach to reading a face is through reading microexpressions.

The idea is that whenever we experience an emotion, we leak out a tiny glimpse of what we’re feeling. These tiny expressions come out independently, and we can’t control them. They last as short as half a second.

Psychologist Paul Ekman13 traveled to different countries across the globe and found 7 emotions that all humans seem to express. The emotions are:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Contempt
  • Disgust
  • Surprise

Each of these seven emotions has a distinct microexpression. 

So, if you see someone tighten their lips, lower their eyebrows, and create a crease between them, you can assume that they just experienced anger.

To get a sense of how each of these emotions manifests in the face, check out this short, info-packed video:

Or, here’s a written guide on the science of face-reading microexpressions. And as a bonus, here’s how to interpret microexpressions when people wear face masks.

Chinese Face Reading

Now, let’s look at some face-reading techniques from the Chinese belief system. Bear in mind these are not scientifically backed.

Facial shape and structure

In Chinese face reading, the overall shape of the face holds great significance. 

  • Round face = kindness, compassion, and a sense of community. People with round faces are considered diplomatic and nurturing but may also be perceived as naive or overly trusting.
  • Square face = authority, strength, and practicality. Individuals with square faces are thought logical, organized, and ambitious but may also be stubborn or dominant.
  • Oval face = balanced, harmonious, graceful. Such people are seen as well-balanced, rational, and diplomatic. They may have various interests and excel in interacting with others.
  • Rectangular or long face = logical and hardworking. These individuals are thought to be more serious, methodical, and introverted. They may be deeply focused on their careers.


The eyes are considered the windows to the soul in Chinese face reading. They provide valuable clues about a person’s emotions, intelligence, and vitality. The eyes’ size, shape, and placement are all considered. 

  • Large eyes = passion, generosity, and vitality. People with large eyes are seen as open and expressive, willing to engage with the world around them.
  • Small eyes = focus, precision, and introversion. Such individuals might be viewed as more reserved or even secretive, but they’re also often considered to be highly intellectual and detail-oriented
  • Round eyes = curiosity, enthusiasm, and a youthful spirit. People with round eyes are considered more adventurous and eager to try new things, but they might also be more naive or easily influenced.
  • Almond-shaped eyes = wisdom, tolerance, and a balanced personality. People with thinner eyes tend to be viewed as older spirits and wiser.


The nose is prominent in Chinese face reading, symbolizing wealth, career prospects, and overall fortune. Various aspects of the nose, such as its length, width, and shape of the nostrils, are analyzed to conclude a person’s financial success and social standing. 

  • Big Nose = ambition, leadership qualities, and the potential for great wealth. A prominent nose indicates a strong, dynamic personality and suggests that the individual is not easily pushed around.
  • Small nose = sensitive, kind-hearted, and introverted. Small noses are thought to indicate a more cautious approach to opportunities and perhaps a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of their own
  • Wide nose = grounded, solid, and practical. Such people are also seen to lack tact and diplomacy. It suggests a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to life.
  • Narrow nose = precision and delicacy. It suggests a character that might be focused, careful, or conservative. Such people are seen as detail-oriented.

Mouth and lips

The mouth and lips are crucial indicators of a person’s personality and communication style in Chinese face reading. The lips’ shape, size, and color are examined to discern information about one’s emotional nature, verbal prowess, and relationship dynamics. 

  • Full lips = generosity and a love for life. People with full lips are considered caring, communicative, and emotionally open.
  • Thin lips = emotional restraint or introversion. These individuals may prefer a small circle of close friends and are considered more self-reliant and independent.
  • Wide mouth = gregarious and extroverted. These individuals are often seen as good talkers and socially adept.
  • Smallmouth = selective, discerning nature. People with small mouths may be picky about their friends and cautious in their actions.

Why Face Reading Has Serious Limitations

Even though face reading is an interesting practice, there are many issues and limitations.

Traditional forms of face reading (like Chinese, Vedic, and Astrological face reading) have been around for centuries but generally lack empirical evidence and are typically dismissed by the scientific community as pseudoscience. 

One study14 suggests that people who believe in face reading also tend to have a biologically deterministic view of personality and believe in a just world. In other words, they think that “faces and traits should be related because they are both manifestations of biological essences and because the world is an orderly place wherein people get faces they deserve.” 

The History of Face Reading Across Cultures

Face reading is practiced in many different cultures.

Chinese face reading spans thousands of years and relates to traditional Chinese medicine, where different parts of the face are linked to different organs. 

In India, Vedic face reading dates back to the ancient Indian scriptures known as the Vedas. These texts ground many spiritual practices and philosophies in India, including yoga, Ayurveda, and Vedic astrology. 

Ancient Greeks15,and%20round%20faces%20signaled%20courage. practiced face-reading in the West to judge people’s character. As far back as 500 BCE, Pythagoras (yes, the guy who made up the triangle theory you probably learned in middle school) was known to take on or reject students based on how intelligent their faces looked.

Face reading is coming back into the mainstream because AI researchers are attempting to create AI that can discern human personalities based on images. One group16 is trying to develop AI that can distinguish between the faces of people who have committed crimes and those who haven’t. They’ve run some tests, but nothing that has been scientifically validated.

Frequently Asked Questions About Face Reading

What is face reading?

Face reading is interpreting various facial features to gain insights into a person’s character, emotions, or potential. The art of face reading is a tradition rooted in multiple cultures and philosophies, ranging from ancient Chinese thought to modern psychology.

How does face reading work?

Face reading analyzes specific facial features, such as the shape and size of the eyes, nose, lips, and other elements, to conclude an individual’s qualities or tendencies. 

What are the key facial features that face readers analyze?

The key facial features that face readers analyze typically include the eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, forehead, and overall facial shape (including profile). These features are considered to be indicative of certain personality traits, emotions, or potential.

Can face reading accurately reveal someone’s personality traits?

Face reading claims to reveal someone’s personality traits by interpreting their facial features, but the accuracy of these interpretations is widely debated. Scientific evidence supporting the reliability of face reading to predict personality traits is scant accurately.

Is face reading a scientific practice or a pseudoscience?

Face reading is generally considered a pseudoscience by the scientific community because it lacks empirical evidence and rigorous testing to substantiate its claims. While it may offer cultural or anecdotal insights, it is not grounded in systematic, evidence-based research.

What are the different cultural and historical perspectives on face reading?

Different cultural and historical perspectives on face reading include ancient Chinese physiognomy, Vedic Mukha Prakriti in India, and various Western interpretations. Each tradition has its own set of principles and methods for interpreting facial features.

Can face reading be used in everyday life to understand better and connect with others?

Face reading can be used in everyday life to attempt to understand better and connect with others, although its efficacy is debatable. While some people find it useful for personal insights or entertainment, empirical evidence is needed to be more reliable as a scientific tool for understanding human behavior.

Takeaways on Face Reading

Here are some key highlights on the topic of face reading:

  • There are scientific reports on personality differences based on face symmetry and levels of testosterone and estrogen
  • We can interpret microexpressions from the 7 different emotions in people’s faces
  • Traditional Chinese and Vedic traditions practice face reading to interpret people’s personalities and futures, though these methods aren’t grounded in science.
  • AI researchers attempt to bring back face reading to integrate it into predictive technology.

If you want to get better at reading people, here’s a 101 guide to decoding body language that you might find helpful.

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