Face value: Amygdala response reflects the validity of first impressions

Nicholas O. Rule, Joseph M. Moran, Jonathan B. Freeman, Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, John D.E. Gabrieli, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The human amygdala responds to first impressions of people as judged from their faces, such as normative judgments about the trustworthiness of strangers. It is unknown, however, whether amygdala responses to first impressions can be validated by objective criteria. Here, we examined amygdala responses to faces of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) where real-world outcomes could be measured objectively by the amounts of profits made by each CEO's company. During fMRI scanning, participants made incidental judgments about the symmetry of each CEO's face. After scanning, participants rated each CEO's face on leadership ability. Parametric analyses showed that greater left amygdala response to the CEOs' faces was associated with higher post-scan ratings of the CEOs' leadership ability. In addition, greater left amygdala response was also associated with greater profits made by the CEOs' companies and this relationship was statistically mediated by external raters' perceptions of arousal. Thus, amygdala response reflected both subjective judgments and objective measures of leadership ability based on first impressions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-741
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


  • Amygdala
  • Face perception
  • First impressions
  • Leadership
  • Nonverbal behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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