Smile, you’re on camera: Virginia Tech research gauges public support for facial profiling technology | VTX

Should you judge a book by its cover? Or a Netflix show by its thumbnail?

We often judge others just by looking at them. We make quick deductions about their personality and character – whether they’re nice, funny, smart or rude – after a few seconds.

“And now AI technologies claim to infer our personality and character just by looking at our photos,” said Shilpa Madan, assistant professor of marketing at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.

Companies use facial profiling in their recruitment processes to judge the employability of candidates, the reliability of customers to repay their loans, a person’s ability to take risks, etc. Of course, technology is also used for things that would be considered fun. Facial profiling-based smartphone apps claim to test your love and friend compatibility based on a selfie you upload to the app.

As technology has advanced at an exponential rate over the past few decades, some companies have taken the adage “the face is the window to the soul” literally.

However, simple privacy and security concerns aside, facial profiling raises multiple issues of discrimination and bias. Given these concerns, why do people support – even actively participate in – facial profiling?

According to Madan’s research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Your appearance is who you are: Appearance reveals character theory increases support for facial profiling,” one of the reasons people support even the extreme uses of facial profiling is that they believe an individual’s appearance can indeed accurately reveal their character.

This means that the concern behind the use of facial profiling is not the technology used or even the reason for which it is used. Rather, it is the belief that there is a reliable association between an individual’s appearance and character.

“Only wicked witches are ugly”

The belief that there is a connection between an individual’s appearance and character is not a new idea. “It’s been part of human speech since at least 300 BC,” Madan said. “As human beings, we have always placed great importance on someone’s appearance.”

You can even see it in pop culture. In television and film, heroes are often portrayed as handsome or handsome, while villains are seen as ugly and obnoxious. In the classic film “The Wizard of Oz”, when Dorothy asks Glenda the Good Witch why she is so beautiful, Glenda retorts that “only bad witches are ugly”.

However, the science behind the claim that people’s appearance can reveal their character is mixed at best. As Madan’s research shows, that doesn’t stop people from believing the link exists.

Across nine studies with nearly 3,000 participants, Madan’s research found that the more people believed people’s appearances revealed their character, the more they supported the adoption of facial profiling technologies. The search included extreme examples of facial profiling, such as allowing police to arrest someone because facial profiling software thought they looked like a “criminal”, putting a student in a remedial class because it didn’t look “smart” or allow financial institutions to charge higher interest rates to certain customers because they didn’t look “trustworthy” enough.

“The more someone believed that appearance revealed character, the more he was convinced that others could also judge character by appearance,” Madan said. “That then increased their support for facial profiling.

Interestingly, the target of facial profiling didn’t matter, according to Madan’s research. “You would assume that people would strongly object to being profiled themselves,” she said. However, participants were just as likely to support the use of facial profiling on themselves or their family if they believed that people’s appearance reveals their character.

“People generally believe they have a good character,” she said. “That they have nothing to hide.”

Diving into the next frontier of research

Madan’s research – with its strong societal implications around privacy and security – highlights the need for increased scientific discovery in facial profiling and the field of artificial intelligence in general.

Fortunately, researchers at Virginia Tech are already responding to this accusation. Perfectly aligned with the university’s AI research frontier, the Tech for Humanity initiative, Pamplin’s strategic pillar focused on advancing the human condition, and the marketing department’s focus on good. -being and consumer technology, Hokies continues to explore the impact of technological innovation through human-centered research, academics and experiential learning.

“Facial profiling is becoming more common, both in government and in business, but people don’t understand its implications and ramifications. Scientists need to be clear about what can and cannot be determined by facial profiling, because the rest of the world will form their beliefs based on that consensus,” Madan said.

Otherwise, the consequences could be dystopian.

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