Fun fact: because the right side of the brain is more involved in processing emotions than the left and each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, the left side of the face is generally more expressive.
We humans must know this on some unconscious level, because self-portraits (or “selfies“) tend to feature the left side of the face more often than the right. In fact, real portraits — you know, painted by artists — show the same bias going all the way back to the 16th century.
I borrow these fascinating insights from a blog post by Owen Churches, a psychologist who wanted to know if all types of people leaned towards showing their emotional side, or if there were exceptions. He and his colleagues decided to look at academics, collecting 5,829 head shots appearing on professors’ faculty pages. He found that English and Psychology professors were most likely to pose in ways that drew attention to the left side of their face, but Engineering professors did not. This, Churches writes, “suggests that these hard scientists seek to display themselves to the world as the unemotional clichés of popular myth.”
So, I thought I’d do a little experiment. I collected the head shots of everyone in the sociology department at my college, Occidental, and everyone in the physics department (we don’t have engineering, alas). Trend holds!Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and Gender, a textbook. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.