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Inferring Whether Officials Are Corruptible From Looking At Their Faces

Lin, Chujun and Adolphs, Ralph and Alvarez, R. Michael (2018) Inferring Whether Officials Are Corruptible From Looking At Their Faces. Psychological Science, 29 (11). pp. 1807-1823. ISSN 0956-7976. PMCID PMC6249659.

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While inferences of traits from unfamiliar faces prominently reveal stereotypes, some facial inferences also correlate with real-world outcomes. We investigated whether facial inferences are associated with an important real-world outcome closely linked to the face bearer’s behavior: political corruption. In four preregistered studies (N = 325), participants made trait judgments of unfamiliar government officials on the basis of their photos. Relative to peers with clean records, federal and state officials convicted of political corruption (Study 1) and local officials who violated campaign finance laws (Study 2) were perceived as more corruptible, dishonest, selfish, and aggressive but similarly competent, ambitious, and masculine (Study 3). Mediation analyses and experiments in which the photos were digitally manipulated showed that participants’ judgments of how corruptible an official looked were causally influenced by the face width of the stimuli (Study 4). The findings shed new light on the complex causal mechanisms linking facial appearances with social behavior.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Lin, Chujun0000-0002-7605-6508
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Alvarez, R. Michael0000-0002-8113-4451
Additional Information:© 2018 The Author(s). Received: September 25, 2017; Accepted: June 03, 2018; Article first published online: September 12, 2018. Action Editor: D. Stephen Lindsay served as action editor for this article. Author Contributions: All authors developed the study concept and designed the study. Testing and data collection were performed by C. Lin, who also analyzed and interpreted the data under the supervision of R. Adolphs and R. M. Alvarez. All authors drafted the manuscript. All the authors approved the final manuscript for submission. We thank Colin F. Camerer, Antonio Rangel, Anita Tusche, and Shuo Wang for helpful conversations. The author(s) declared that there were no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship or the publication of this article. This research was supported in part by a Conte Center grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (P50MH094258). Supplemental Material: Additional supporting information can be found at Open Practices: All data and materials have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework (OSF) and can be accessed at The design and analysis plans for the experiments were preregistered at the OSF (Study 1:, Study 2:, Study 3:, Study 4: The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found at This article has received badges for Open Data, Open Materials, and Preregistration. More information about the Open Practices badges can be found at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Caltech Conte Center for the Neurobiology of Social Decision MakingUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:face perception, corruption, social attribution, stereotyping, political psychology, open data, open materials, preregistered
Issue or Number:11
PubMed Central ID:PMC6249659
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180912-112657269
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Lin, C., Adolphs, R., & Michael Alvarez, R. (2018). Inferring Whether Officials Are Corruptible From Looking at Their Faces. Psychological Science, 29(11), 1807–1823.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:89574
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:12 Sep 2018 18:33
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:19

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