The Secret Ways People Judge You on Your Body Type

Our brains are hardwired to believe certain stereotypes.

It's well-known by now that people make major judgments about your personality within the first seven seconds of meeting you, and many of those are based on your facial features. For example, one recent study found that women register men with more "masculine" facial features—which include strong, squared jawbones, dark coloring, large noses, high foreheads, small eyes, heavy brow ridges, and hollow cheekbones—as more virile but also more prone to cheating, which scientists believe is because these traits tend to indicate higher levels of testosterone. Conversely, women therefore view men with more "feminine features" as more trustworthy and more stable long-term romantic partners.

Now, a new study published in Psychological Science has found that the first impression that we make depend just as much on our body types as it does our faces.

Researchers asked 76 undergraduate students to make judgements about someone's personality based on 140 three-dimensional body models (half men, half women) using data from laser scans of actual human bodies.

Generally, the participants viewed heavier frames as lazy and careless, and believed people with slimmer frames were more self-confident and enthusiastic. Additionally, they associated men who had more masculine traits (such as being broad-shouldered) and women who had more feminine features (such as being pear-shaped) with more "active" characteristics and louder personalities, and viewed them as being extroverted but also difficult and irritable.

Those who had lankier or more rectangular body shapes, however, were associated with more "passive" characteristics, and were seen as more shy, trustworthy, dependable, and warm.

"Our research shows that people infer a wide range of personality traits just by looking at the physical features of a particular body," Ying Hu,  a professor at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the study, said. "Stereotypes based on body shape can contribute to how we judge and interact with new acquaintances and strangers. Understanding these biases is important for considering how we form first impressions."

Co-author Alice O'Toole added that, ""To our knowledge, this is the first study to consider the role of more nuanced aspects of body shape—beyond height and weight—in personality judgments about people."

The assumptions that we make about people based on their appearance is rooted in evolutionary science and should therefore not be discredited entirely. However, it's worth noting that these snap judgments can be misguided.

For example, someone who is more heavy-set could be suffering from a thyroid problem, which means that it's unfair to automatically assume they lack self-control, in the same way that it's unfair to assume that people who are naturally slim are exercise buffs, or that those who have feminine facial features are more sensitive than those who do not. To that extent, the value of this research is to make us more aware of our unconsciouses biases—so that we can better rise above them.

For more on the fascinating science of our minds, check out how our taste preferences reveal major personality traits.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more