Much as we’d like to think we’re free of prejudice, we all judge each other to some degree based on appearance. It only takes a tenth of a second for someone to form an opinion of another person, based solely on a glimpsed photograph. It’s no surprise that altering lighting and perspective can affect how a person in a photograph is viewed. Now, Ronnie Bryan, Pietro Perona and Ralph Adolphs of CalTech have shown that distance matters as well. When viewed from too close up, we all look like scoundrels.
The researchers showed participants photographs of people taken from a distance of either 45 cm (well within most people’s personal space boundary) or 135 cm (a comfortable speaking distance for most people). Both pictures were taken simultaneously so that the facial expressions would be identical between pairs of photographs. The pictures were then digitally manipulated so that the size, position and lighting of the faces did not differ regardless of how far away the camera had been. Volunteers were unaware that the distances had been manipulated. You can see an example below.
The subjects were then asked to evaluate the trustworthiness of the people in the pictures, both directly (by giving their opinions) and indirectly by playing monetary trust games. For example, subjects were given $100 and asked to invest that money as they saw fit amongst the models in the various photographs. The volunteers got returns on their investments based on the responses those same models had previously indicated they would make in each situation. Thus, the more accurately the volunteers were able to judge the character of the models, the better their return on investment would be.
Across the board, people who had been photographed from within personal space boundaries were judged as less trustworthy, attractive or competent than the same people photographed from farther away. Knowing this, actors and politicians might do well to ask cameras to back away, rather than posing for extreme close-ups.