Tilting your head at a certain angle broadcasts dominance to other people, researchers at UBC have found.
For their study, they asked hundreds of participants to look at a series of neutral faces – both real and computer-generated – at different angles.
The results showed that the faces that were titled downward 10 degrees were likelier to be rated as more dominant.
Respondents matched the faces at that angle with statements like "This person would enjoy having control over others" and "This person would be willing to use aggressive tactics to get their way”.
"We show that tilting one's head downward systematically changes the way the face is perceived, such that a neutral face – a face with no muscle movement or facial expression – appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down," explained Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy from UBC.
"This effect is caused by the fact that tilting one's head downward leads to the artificial appearance of lowered and V-shaped eyebrows – which in turn elicit perceptions of aggression, intimidation, and dominance.”
They also said that “neutral faces” can still be communicative, adding: "Subtle shifts of the head can have profound effects on social perception, partly because they can have large effects on the appearance of the face."
The key, the researchers concluded, is the eyebrows.
Participants rated downward-tilted faces as more dominant even when the only thing they could see were the eyebrows and eyes.
They did not rate downward-tilted faces as dominant when the eyes and eyebrows were out of sight.
"In other words, tilting the head downward can have the same effect on social perceptions as does lowering one's eyebrows--a movement made by the corrugator muscle, known as Action Unit 4 in the Facial Action Coding System--but without any actual facial movement," said Witkower and Tracy.
"Head tilt is thus an 'action unit imposter' in that it creates the illusory appearance of a facial muscle movement where none in fact exists."
They concluded: "People often display certain movements or expressions during their everyday interactions, such as a friendly smile or wave, as a way to communicate information. Our research suggests that we may also want to consider how we hold their head during these interactions, as subtle head movements can dramatically change the meaning of otherwise innocuous facial expressions."