Time to turn the other cheek? The influence of left and right poses on perceptions of academic specialisation Academic Article uri icon


  • The human face expresses emotion asymmetrically. Whereas the left cheek is more emotionally expressive, the right cheek appears more impassive, hence the appropriate cheek to put forward depends on the circumstance. Nicholls, Clode, Wood, and Wood (1999, Proceedings of the Royal Society (Section B), 266, 1517-1522) demonstrated that people posing for family portraits offer the left cheek, whereas those posing as a Royal Society scientist favour the right. Given that the stereotypical representations of members of different academic disciplines differ markedly in their perceived openness and emotionality (e.g., "serious" scientist vs. "creative" writer), we reasoned that people may use cheek as a cue when determining a model's area of academic interest. Two hundred and nine participants (M=90, F=119) viewed pairs of left and right cheek poses, and made a forced-choice decision indicating which image depicted a Chemistry, Psychology or English student. Half the images were mirror-reversed to control for perceptual and aesthetic biases. Consistent with prediction, participants were more likely to select left cheek images for English students, and right cheek images for Chemistry students, irrespective of image orientation. The results confirm that determining the best cheek to put forward depends on your academic expertise: an impassive right cheek suggests hard science, whereas an emotive left cheek implies the arts. Psychology produced no left or right bias, consistent with its position as a discipline perpetually straddling the boundary between art and science.

publication date

  • November 2010