London: Close-up photo subjects are judged to look less trustworthy, less competent, and less attractive, a new study has found. Pietro Perona from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), came up with the initial idea for the study.

Perona, an art history enthusiast, suspected that Renaissance portrait paintings often featured subtle geometric warping of faces to make the viewer feel closer or more distant to a subject.

He wondered if the same sort of warping might affect photographic portraits — with a similar effect on their viewers — so he collaborated with Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology, and CNS graduate student Ronnie Bryan to gather opinions on 36 photographs representing two different images of 18 individuals.

One of each pair of images was taken at close range and the second at a distance of about seven feet.
"It turns out that faces photographed quite close-up are geometrically warped, compared to photos taken at a larger distance," Bryan said.

"Of course, the close picture would also normally be larger, higher resolution and have different lighting—but we controlled for all of that in our study. What you're left with is a warping effect that is so subtle that nobody in our study actually noticed it. Nonetheless, it's a perceptual clue that influenced their judgments," he said,
That subtle distance warping, however, had a big effect - close-up photos made people look less trustworthy, according to study participants. The close-up photo subjects were also judged to look less attractive and competent. "This was a surprising, and surprisingly reliable, effect," Adolphs said.

"We went through a bunch of experiments, some testing people in the lab, and some even over the Internet; we asked participants to rate trustworthiness of faces, and in some experiments we asked them to invest real money in unfamiliar people whose faces they saw as a direct measure of how much they trusted them," he said.

According to Adolphs, the researchers saw the same effect across all of the studies - in photos taken from a distance of around two feet, a person looked untrustworthy, compared to photos taken seven feet away.

These two distances were chosen by the researchers because one is within, and the other outside of, personal space—which on average is about three to four feet from the body.

In some of the studies, the researchers digitally warped images of faces taken at a distance to artificially manipulate how trustworthy they would appear.

"Once you know the relation between the distance warp and the trustworthiness judgment, you could manipulate photos of faces and change the perceived trustworthiness," Perona added. The study has been published in the journal PLoS One.


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