Research Article: The Basel Face Database: A validated set of photographs reflecting systematic differences in Big Two and Big Five personality dimensions

Date Published: March 28, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mirella Walker, Sandro Schönborn, Rainer Greifeneder, Thomas Vetter, Peter James Hills.


Upon a first encounter, individuals spontaneously associate faces with certain personality dimensions. Such first impressions can strongly impact judgments and decisions and may prove highly consequential. Researchers investigating the impact of facial information often rely on (a) real photographs that have been selected to vary on the dimension of interest, (b) morphed photographs, or (c) computer-generated faces (avatars). All three approaches have distinct advantages. Here we present the Basel Face Database, which combines these advantages. In particular, the Basel Face Database consists of real photographs that are subtly, but systematically manipulated to show variations in the perception of the Big Two and the Big Five personality dimensions. To this end, the information specific to each psychological dimension is isolated and modeled in new photographs. Two studies serve as systematic validation of the Basel Face Database. The Basel Face Database opens a new pathway for researchers across psychological disciplines to investigate effects of perceived personality.

Partial Text

First encounters are known to strongly influence how individuals perceive others; the power of “first impressions” is even part of collective wisdom represented in fiction and proverbs (e.g., “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”). One particular prominent source affecting first impressions is the human face. Individuals use facial information to instantly and spontaneously build first impressions about others (e.g., [1, 2, 3]). For instance, they infer childlike traits, such as naiveté to strangers with a babyfaced appearance [4]. Such face-based personality impressions have been shown to influence judgments and behavior in various applied domains, such as mate selection (e.g., [5]), hiring (e.g., [6]), voting (e.g., [7, 8]), jurisdiction (e.g., [9]), and morality (e.g., [10, 11]). Because personality impressions based on faces show a high level of agreement across individuals (e.g., [12, 13]), they may result in a socially shared reality that is highly consequential for those being judged.

This contribution presents a new face database consisting of 40 different facial identities systematically modeled regarding the Big Two and the Big Five personality dimensions. Results of two studies suggest that the seven personality dimensions were successfully manipulated in real face photographs. In particular, participants reliably detected changes on each of the manipulated dimensions, evaluating, for instance, a face with an enhanced compared to a reduced value on extraversion as more extraverted. The Basel Face Database (BFD) thus allows researchers to independently manipulate each of the Big Two or Big Five personality dimensions with portraits derived from real photographs. This is important for all types of research projects in which the perception of one isolated aspect of personality and its consequences on judgments and actions is addressed. Researchers can now present the same face, manipulated only regarding the cues associated with the one personality dimension in question, to participants in different conditions of the study. Changes in the dependent variable can then be attributed to systematic differences in the independent variable, resulting in high internal validity.




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