Researchers have found that tucking the chin and lowering the head by just 10 degrees makes people seem more dominating.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that facial features are not the only source of this information, we also draw social inferences from the head itself.
“We show that tilting one’s head downward systematically changes the way the face is perceived, such that a neutral face, a face with no muscle movement or facial expression, appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down,” said researchers Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia.
This effect is caused by the fact that tilting one’s head downward leads to the artificial appearance of lowered and V-shaped eyebrows, which in turn elicit perceptions of aggression, intimidation and dominance.
Subtle shifts of the head can have profound effects on social perception, partly because they can have large effects on the appearance of the face, said the researchers.
For the findings, the research team designed a series of studies to investigate whether the angle of head position might influence social perception, even when facial features remain neutral.
In one online study with 101 participants, the researchers generated variations of avatars with neutral facial expressions and one of three head positions: tilted upward 10 degrees, neutral or tilted downward 10 degrees.
The results showed that participants rated the avatars with downward head tilt as more dominant than those with neutral or upward-titled heads.
A second online study, in which 570 participants rated images of actual people, showed the same pattern of results.
Additional findings revealed that the portion of the face around the eyes and eyebrows is both necessary and sufficient to produce the dominance effect.
Ultimately, these findings could have practical implications for our everyday social interactions, the researchers noted.