Study: We Can See Intelligence (or Lack of Intelligence) in People’s Faces

A new study in the journal Intelligence indicates that viewers can, on average, sort the intelligent from the unintelligent merely by seeing individuals’ faces. Since both intelligence and character are largely heritable, it is not at all surprising that we can sense such traits by noting, even if subconsciously, the facial features with which they are linked.


• The accuracy of intelligence perceptions was assessed in a large sample of twins.
• Intelligence judgements based on facial images significantly correlated with IQ.
• Both stable and transitory facial cues were associated with perceived intelligence.
• Stable face traits mediated the relationship between perceived intelligence and IQ.
• Perceived intelligence and IQ share a familial (genetic and/or environmental) source of variance.


Perceptions of intelligence based on facial features can have a profound impact on many social situations, but findings have been mixed as to whether these judgements are accurate. Even if such perceptions were accurate, the underlying mechanism is unclear. Several possibilities have been proposed, including evolutionary explanations where certain morphological facial features are associated with fitness-related traits (including cognitive development), or that intelligence judgements are over-generalisation of cues of transitory states that can influence cognition (e.g., tiredness). Here, we attempt to identify the morphological signals that individuals use to make intelligence judgements from facial photographs. In a genetically informative sample of 1,660 twins and their siblings, we measured IQ and also perceptions of intelligence based on facial photographs. We found that intelligence judgements were associated with both stable morphological facial traits (face height, interpupillary distance, and nose size) and more transitory facial cues (eyelid openness, and mouth curvature). There was a significant association between perceived intelligence and measured IQ, but of the specific facial attributes only interpupillary distance (i.e., wide-set eyes) significantly mediated this relationship. We also found evidence that perceived intelligence and measured IQ share a familial component, though we could not distinguish between genetic and shared environmental sources.

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Source: Science Direct

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27 July, 2017 12:17 am

Ya, I don’t know about that. It’s to subjective. So, according to that article, models should be highly intelligent life forms? I have eyes that are 1/4 inch further apart then my boss? My friend’s nose is smaller than mine, therefore I must be an idiot, or more likely to rob a bank? I’ve seen a lot of really good looking dumb people and several ugly people that were highly intelligent. I don’t believe those issues have anything to do with IQ, that is unless the subject’s features were highly distinct and had a serious condition like down syndrome….

Reply to  JoeJoe
27 July, 2017 1:14 pm

I second JOEJOE’s comment. Most of the really intelligent people I know “look” less than intelligent… and most of the really stupid people I know “look” attractive and intelligent. Looks are tricky like that. That type of “science” belongs somewhere in the distant past. It has major flaws.

Walt Hampton
Walt Hampton
27 July, 2017 8:48 pm

I think the jury is still out on this one.

27 July, 2017 11:36 pm

I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t illustrate their intelligence until motivated or pressed. I’ve also noticed that others promote themselves with a high intelligence, but don’t have the ability to illustrate skill management when everything goes down..

“The hammer stroke of fate which throws one man to the ground suddenly strikes steel in another.” A.H.

28 July, 2017 12:07 pm

this article is in fact true. you can see intelligence or lack-there0f in faces. take for instance this pos who was involved in the torture murder of Shanon and Christian.

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Reply to  tim
29 August, 2021 9:20 am

An orc.

30 July, 2017 8:39 am

In the photo that tops this article, one can see a gradual increase in the height of the forehead, as one’s eyes move from left to right. Also, the height of the face itself increases, as well as a subtle increase in nose length. There is also a slight downward curve of the mouth on the low IQ face at the far left that is not present on the face at the far right. As one with a high forehead and a correspondingly high IQ, I concur with these findings, based on my own empirical findings. We must all keep in mind that this study simply demonstrates a general tendency that is at work here, and that there are exceptions to the rule, as well as outliers that we can… Read more »

Will Williams
Will Williams
1 August, 2017 11:25 am

Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning “nature” and gnomon meaning “judge” or “interpreter”) is the assessment of character or personality from a person’s outer appearance, especially the face…

I don’t know about IQ but character and personality are certainly apparent in the close study of a person’s face — and that person’s race, or racial mixture, which is what is important for our purposes.

18 August, 2017 9:29 am

One of the issues with modern social constructs is that the volume of oral communication is a gauge of intellect. Being garrulous is preferable to being silent, among Jews. But among Nordic people, the most reserved men and women are often the most capable.