- An August 2018 study that won a 2020 Ig Nobel Prize looked at whether a person could identify a narcissist based on their eyebrows.
- The researchers found people with "distinct" eyebrows were more likely to be narcissists, and identified by strangers as such.
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Thick and defined eyebrows have become a trend in recent years, but according to an award-winning study, a person's brows could signal more than their fashion-forwardness. They could help you determine if they are a narcissist.
The study, which was published in April 2018 in the Journal of Personality and awarded an Ig Nobel Prize this September, is titled "Eyebrows cue grandiose narcissism," and suggests that people with bushier brows are more likely to act self-centered and entitled.
To study this, researchers Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule first took "neutral expression" portraits of 39 students at University of Toronto. 26 of the photo subjects were female and 13 were male and 32 of the subjects were white, while seven were non-white. The average age of the photo subjects was 21.
Then, the 39 subjects took a standardized narcissistic personality test to determine where they fell on the spectrum. They were asked how much they agree with statement like, "If I ruled the world it would be a better place" and "I find it easy to manipulate people," which are sentiments a classic narcissist would believe.
Volunteers had to guess who was more narcissistic
Next, the researchers had 28 virtual volunteers look at the portraits and rate them on a scale from 1 (not narcissistic at all) to 8 (extremely narcissistic), after the researcher defined a narcissist as someone who is "egotistical, self-focused, and vain."
The researchers also flipped the images upside down, because research has shown this allows the human eye to look at individual facial features one by one, rather than grouping them all together. Then, they had a different group of 27 volunteers rate the images.
For the third part of the experiment, researchers put opaque black boxes over the photo subjects' eyes or eyebrows, and then asked volunteers to rate their perceived narcissism levels to see which facial features most accurately tipped them off.
Eyebrows were always the giveaway, the researchers found
The researchers found that study volunteers were able to pinpoint which photo subjects were narcissists when they were shown both their eyebrows and eyes. The volunteers were inaccurate when shown just the subjects' eye and no eyebrows, though.
"We essentially conducted a long series of experiments where we narrowed the face features further and further down until we isolated the eyebrows as being the primary cue for people's narcissism," Giacomin told Insider.
The researchers also classified each subject's eyebrows in terms of density, shape, grooming, and distinctiveness. They found that photo subjects with distinct eyebrows, meaning they were the most obvious face feature, were more likely to be accurately portrayed as narcissists, while grooming style, shape, and density didn't play a role.
The approach is flawed, due to brow makeup and social cues
There were some caveats to the researchers' narcissist-identifying methods.
Giacomin said it was difficult to determine if eyebrow-grooming makeup, which is popular today for changing a person's eyebrow shape or thickness, played a role in how a person's eyebrows were perceived. A person with naturally indistinct eyebrows could use makeup to make theirs look thicker, for example.
Additionally, when a person first meets someone new, they don't only rely on their face to make a first impression, said Giacomin, so the study results might not reflect real-life experience.
"Although we did hone in on the facial features, in real life, when we're forming impressions of people, we use a wide variety of cues. So if we're looking at a photo of somebody, we're looking at how is their hair styled, how much makeup are they wearing, are their clothes on trend," Giacomin said.
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