The Frozen Face Effect – Why Static Photographs May Not Do You Justice

Don’t like the way you look in photographs? New research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology may have some good news for you.

In a recent study, psychologists showed participants faces in the form of photographs and videos. They then had participants rate how attractive each face was. What they found was that we are more likely to judge a face as more attractive when it is moving in a 2 second video instead of when our face is still in a photograph – even when it’s the exact same face. Leading researcher Robert Post calls this “the frozen face effect.”

There are two possible reasons for this effect. First, when we perceive a moving face we calculate an average of the various positions and profiles of that face. This fits with previous research that shows we tend to perceive “average” faces as more attractive.

Another possible reason is that our brains are hard-wired to perceive moving faces. The camera is a recent invention, but throughout our evolution the mechanisms in our brain for face recognition are designed to perceive faces in real-time. This could be why we show a bias toward faces in motion vs. faces that are still.

These findings may illustrate why it can be so difficult to take pictures of faces and also why people often claim they look worse in photographs. So the next time you find yourself not looking so photogenic, remember that you probably look more attractive in person.

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