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A friend told me that "a recent study by researchers has determined that people can identify narcissists by their eyebrows¨.

A quick search revealed this May 2018 Psychology Today article

A 2018 study by researchers Giacomin and Rule has determined that people can identify grandiose narcissists by the distinctiveness of their eyebrows.

It pointing to this study:

  • Giacomin M, Rule NO, Eyebrows cue grandiose narcissism, J Pers. 2018 May 5. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12396

Neither the Psychology Today article nor the abstract are clear on the actual numerical probability with which people can supposedly identify narcissists by their eyebrows.

The statement seemed like modern phrenology to me.

Is this a robust result?

  • 1
    It's definitely not a joke or hoax, i.e. it takes itself seriously. I don't know about the credibility of the results/claims. – Fizz Jul 22 '18 at 4:06
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    Anther thing I can tell you quickly (from its citations) is that it's not the first recent study of this kind: psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1016/j.jrp.2011.09.002 And more worryingly newscientist.com/article/… – Fizz Jul 22 '18 at 4:15
  • A more balanced view newscientist.com/article/… Not that it has stopped the trend, particularly in AI-based detection theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/12/… – Fizz Jul 22 '18 at 4:27
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    I am not a strong enough statistician to properly review this paper, but there were a number of red flags that it was subject to p-hacking (men's left eyebrows weren't significant as a determinant, but their right eyebrows were?), and/or they are just finding gender differences. It's too new to expect much post-publication peer-review responses yet. – Oddthinking Jul 22 '18 at 9:48
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I am not a psychologist, and I cannot judge the methods of this article. I decided to take this claim seriously after I applied the following litmus tests.


  1. Did the scientists claim what the article says they claimed?

In the journal article, Eyebrows cue grandiose narcissism, Giacomin and Rule make claims that basically match those from the Psychology Today article. From their abstract: "Together, these data show that distinctive eyebrows reveal narcissists’ personality to others."

They tend to be slightly more cautious about the quality of their evidence than the psychology today article suggests:

Although we did not find direct positive evidence implicating the eyebrows as the definitive cue to narcissism, the combination of (a) significant accuracy for the total eye region (but not when occluding it), (b) significant accuracy when occluding the eyes but not brows, and (c) no accuracy when occluding the eyebrows from the full face suggests that the eyebrows play a critical role in perceptions of narcissism.


  1. Are the scientists actual scientists?

First author, Dr. Miranda Giacomin is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. She was formerly a postdoc working with "Dr. Nicholas Rule at the University of Toronto in the Social Perception and Cognition Lab." She has published about narcissism before. She is a real scientist, and I will take her study as seriously as I take any single psychology study.


  1. Was the scientific article published in a reputable peer reviewed journal?

The article appeared in the "Journal of Personality," a peer reviewed psychology journal. The journal seems to have decent publication statistics. It is difficult to interpret these to figure out the prestige of a journal, but I am confident this is not a predatory or garbage journal.


  1. Is there prior research that has similar findings?

Other research cited by Giacomin and Rule has found that people can judge narcissism based on physical appearance, but the importance of eyebrows is new to this work.


  1. Do other scientists take this seriously? Has anyone published a replication, or another study building on this work?

It is too soon for peer review to have happened. Hopefully in time, someone else will do peer review. Remember that science, particularly the soft sciences, are messy. Individual studies can produce false positives, but over time when scientists build on each other's work, a body of evidence can emerge that all points at generally the same thing. Until then all I can really do is shrug my shoulders and wait for more research.


Conclusion: This is real cutting edge science that should be taken as seriously as any cutting edge psychology. Cutting edge science is messy, and sometimes wrong.

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