This psychological test purports to measure your ability to read facial expressions.

In the quiz, you examine a number of pictures and have to choose a word that best describes what the person was thinking/feeling at the moment this picture was taken, and it provides a numeric score.

A typical score is in the range 22-30. If you scored over 30, you are very accurate at decoding a person's facial expressions around their eyes. A score under 22 indicates you find this quite difficult

It provides no references.

My question is whether there is any scientific basis for this test?

  • 2
    To give answerers a head-start, I believe this is a (plagiarised?) version of the Well quiz, developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, publicised by the NY Times, and was used in a study described in this news article.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:42
  • @Oddthinking I suspect you are right about that being the Well quiz.
    – rjzii
    Oct 30, 2013 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


While the validity of a single test is difficult to determine without more information on how the test was constructed, the approach itself is valid and has been used in other peer reviewed studies.

Is There a "Language of the Eyes"? Evidence from Normal Adults, and Adults with Autism or Asperger Syndrome

The results of Experiment 1 strongly support both predictions. First, normal adult subjects are able to detect a range of mental states (both basic and complex) from whole facial expressions, showing strong agreement. This replicates our earlier study which used paintings and drawings of whole faces (Baron-Cohen et al., 1996), but shows this ability under tightly controlled, standardized conditions (photographs of the same actress). Second, whilst for basic mental states the whole face provides significantly more information than either the mouth or the eyes, for complex mental states the eyes (but not the mouth) provide as much information as the full face. This may be because complex mental states are not easily expressed just by the mouth, unlike basic ones (happy, sad, etc). These results are consistent with Nummenmaa’s (1964) result, but demonstrate it for a wider set of mental states. They are also consistent with the idea that there is a language of the eyes. In Experiment 2, we tested if the eye-region effect would replicate if photos of a male face were used, in order to test the robustness of the effect.

Impaired Recognition of Social Emotions following Amygdala Damage

Recognition of Basic Emotions and Complex Mental States from the Eyes
In general, it is more difficult to recognize emotions from only a small region of the face, such as the eyes, than from the whole face. In our analysis, we controlled for this effect since correctness scores were calculated on the basis of the distribution of performances given by normal subjects to the stimuli. Figure 4 summarizes these data, in the same format previously shown for Figure 3.

Most of the peer review studies I was able to find were related to fields of neural science; however, they did use the technique of showing the area around the eyes to test for emotional recognition. However, the studies also take steps to control the images that are used by ensuring the same actor or actress and also using standard references such as "Handbook of Emotions" when preparing the images to be used for the tests.

Since the website provided doesn't actually provide information on how the images were selected and there are different actors and actresses in the pictures, the best we can say is that while the approach is valid, the test is unlikely to pass peer review.

  • Highly appreciate your answer, Rob. The test does not even explain whether actors or actresses where used. For all we know they may just be random pictures and the creator of the test has just made up what the correct and incorrect answers are.
    – BaGi
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:17
  • @BaGi: Perhaps you could clarify - in your question you ask about "these kinds of tests", which I think Rob has addressed, but in the comment above you are talking about this specific test, which will be harder to demonstrate. Which do you want to ask about?
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:30
  • @oddthinking: Indeed, I have edited the question.
    – BaGi
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:36
  • 2
    +1 The biggest single tip that this wouldn't be accepted specifically as a scientific experiment is the amount of confounding variables that aren't accounted for at all, like inter-gender variance, apparent age of actor, apparent age of photograph, lighting (in one of the photos you can hardly see the woman's eyes at all due to shadows), makeup, etc. Also, to be scientifically reliable it would take a lot more than 35 pictures to test such a wide range of emotions. It's not a bad way to demonstrate the concept, of course, but diagnostically it would be useless and wouldn't pass peer review.
    – BrianH
    Nov 1, 2013 at 17:15
  • Your answer doesn't say anything about whether the test works . The test is supposed to tell people who are good at detecting emotions from people who aren't. The people who are studied are the people taking the test, not the one on the photographs. It possible that your ability to say something about a photograph doesn't has much to do with real time 3D face reading ability which most people would see as the core of the ability to read others faces.
    – Christian
    Nov 17, 2013 at 1:06

As was pointed out above there is some connection to the following:

One poster there points out that:
   "Bryant, Chicago
   My guess is this is based off the work of Paul Ekman. See his book "Emotions Revealed"."

And the following quote:
reveals that:
"...these photographs have been rated by large normative groups in different cultures." (referring to the original test by Elkman, on which the Well test as well as the test in discussion seem to be based)

So, all together that means that, the test is scientific in that sense that it compares your decisions with the decisions of a "large normative group". But one could argue that this is only a very limited definition of the "ability to read facial expressions" if it is one at all.


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