2020 Keynote: Face and Body Perception

2 July 2020, 3.30 PM - 2 July 2020, 4.30 PM

Professor David Perrett, School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews

Online: details to follow

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We readily make judgments of others but are unaware of the accuracy or the basis of our opinions. In this keynote, Professor Perrett will focus on the roles of skin tone, face shape and body shape in forming our impressions.

Carotenoid pigments from fruit and vegetables in our diet impart yellowness (or a 'golden glow') to the skin. Carotenoid ornaments are used in many species to signal general health. In humans too, we find that carotenoid skin colour reflects multiple aspects of health, including aerobic fitness, body fat, stress and sleep duration.

The neural coding of face shape is such that exaggeration along dimensions to which brain cells are tuned increases cell responses. This coding may explain the improvement in speed of recognition when facial cues are caricatured. The coding may also enable the evolution of exaggerated features arising from sexual preferences (e.g., for enhanced sexual dimorphism) or from competition between individuals of the same sex. Both men and women have an exaggerated impression of the body shape desired by the other sex. Such misperception may be driven by competition.

Perceptual judgments about health and attractiveness depend on underlying biological processes: dietary effects on skin colour, hormonal influences on facial growth, and fat and muscle contributions to body shape. Perception is thus based on cues to underlying biology.


BSc. Psychology, St Andrews (1976), D.Phil., University of Oxford (1981)

Professor Perrett's doctoral studies were on single neurons and highlights included selective responses to faces and to familiarity. He set up a neurophysiology laboratory in St Andrews to develop these studies making discoveries of visual coding for faces, face identity, expression and attention direction, body movements including the biological motion of point light displays, and hand actions (the visual side of ‘mirror neurons’).

With his colleagues, he devised computer graphic programs for automated caricatures and for manipulating facial shape, colour and texture. They used these to study visual aspects of attractiveness, individual recognition, aging, personality, expression of emotion, and most recently health.

Find out more about Professor David Perrett:
Professor Perrett's latest research
Research led by the University of St Andrews: 'Healthy living gives skin a golden glow'
David Perrett at TEDxGhent: 'In your face'

Contact information

For further information, please email bvi-enquiries@bristol.ac.uk.  

Review our programme: VRC 2020 online programme (PDF, 483kB)

Register to attend via Eventbrite


David Perrett

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