Can our behavior be predicted by the shape of our face?

Researchers from KU Leuven and Stanford University have identified 76 overlapping genetic locations that shape both our face and brain. But they also conclude that anyone who wants to predict someone’s behavior – via artificial intelligence for example – cannot do that based on our facial features.

So there’s no evidence that that genetic overlap translates into a person’s traits or risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s, the scientists said. Their findings thereby disprove some of the “persistent pseudoscientific claims” about what might be written on our faces.

Brain scans of 20,000 people

There had been indications for a genetic link between the shape of our face and that of our brain for some time, says Professor Peter Claes of the Laboratory for Image Processing in Genetics at KU Leuven. “We wanted to map the genetic link between the facial and brain shapes of individuals much more broadly, and that for common genetic variations in the larger non-clinical population.”

In their search for genetic links between facial and brain shapes, the team applied a methodology they previously used to identify genes that shape the shape of our face. “In those previous studies, we analyzed 3D images of faces and linked different data points on those faces to genetic information to find correlations,” says Claes. For example, the researchers identified various genes that shape our face.

This time, the research team used the data available in the UK Biobank, from which they extracted the MRI brain scans and the genetic information of 20,000 individuals. “For example, we identified 472 genome locations that influence the shape of our brain; 351 of those locations have never been reported before, ”says Claes. “In total, 76 locations turned out to be linked to the shape of our face. So there is a compelling genetic link between the shape of our face and our brain. ”

Behavior cannot be predicted by face

But according to Claes, what the team didn’t think is just as important. “We found a clear genetic link between the shape of a person’s face and brain, but that overlap is largely unrelated to that person’s cognitive traits or behavior.”

In other words, even with advanced technologies, we cannot predict someone’s behavior based on facial features. “Our results confirm that there is no genetic evidence for a link between a person’s face and that person’s behavior,” Claes said. Detecting aggressive tendencies in someone’s face with the help of artificial intelligence is therefore impossible, according to the researchers.

“We therefore want to explicitly distance ourselves from pseudoscientific claims in that direction. For example, there are those who claim that they can detect aggressive tendencies in faces using artificial intelligence. Such projects are not only completely unethical, they also lack any scientific basis. “



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