Browse Definitions:
Definition

physiognomy

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Physiognomy is a pseudoscience based on associating personal characteristics and traits with physical differences and especially with elements of people's faces. The word is derived from the ancient Greek word for nature, physis, and the one for judge, gnomon.

One common example of physiognomy is correlating a high brow with intelligence and a greater affinity for the arts. Other remnants of physiognomy include the expression "stuck up," which comes from the theory that people with upturned noses have a contemptuous attitude the term "thick-headed" to describe stupidity. No valid evidence exists for those associations or for any other claim of physiognomy.

The origins of physiognomy go back to at least 500 BC, when Phythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician, selected his students based on whether or not their physiognomy indicated that they were intellectually gifted. Aristotle wrote that a broad face indicated stupidity, while a round face indicated courage.

In the mid-19th century Casare Lombroso, an Italian scientist, promoted the idea that criminals were genetic throwbacks and that they could be identified by a number of physical characteristics including hawk-like noses, fleshy lips, low and sloped foreheads, flattened or upturned noses and longer than average arms.

Physiognomy is currently enjoying a ressurgence, at least in part because of the development of artifical intelligence and big data analytics technologies. Proponents claim that the ability of advanced technologies to detect minute differences and correlate huge volumes of data could lead to more valid inferences. Critics, on the other hand, argue that human bias is likely to lead to flawed results.

In late 2016, Xiaolin Wu, a professor at McMaster University and Xi Zhang of Shanghai Jiao Tong University published an article, "Automated Inference on Criminality Using Face Images." The paper suggested that machine learning algorithms could determine which individuals in a collection of scanned photos was likely to be a criminal, solely based on their physical characteristics. In the paper's abstract, the authors admitted that the software was unavoidably reliant on human perceptions, which are know to be error-prone. However, they went on to say that “our empirical evidences point to the possibility of training machine learning algorithms, using example face images, to predict personality traits and behavioral propensity.” The paper has since been removed from ArXiv, the repository where it was published, and the authors have posted a response to critics agreeing with, for example, the need for "policing AI research for the good of society."

Phrenology, a variation of physiognomy, is based on associating personal characteristics with measurements of the skull.

This was last updated in January 2018

Continue Reading About physiognomy

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

SearchCompliance

  • smart contract

    A smart contract, also known as a cryptocontract, is a computer program that directly controls the transfer of digital currencies...

  • risk map (risk heat map)

    A risk map, also known as a risk heat map, is a data visualization tool for communicating specific risks an organization faces. A...

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

SearchSecurity

  • evil maid attack

    An evil maid attack is a security exploit that targets a computing device that has been shut down and left unattended.  An evil ...

  • Common Body of Knowledge (CBK)

    In security, Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) is a comprehensive framework of all the relevant subjects a security professional ...

  • rootkit

    A rootkit is a program or, more often, a collection of software tools that gives a threat actor remote access to and control over...

SearchHealthIT

  • value-based healthcare

    Value-based healthcare, also known as value-based care, is a payment model that rewards healthcare providers for providing ...

  • health informatics

    Health informatics is the practice of acquiring, studying and managing health data and applying medical concepts in conjunction ...

  • clinical trial

    A clinical trial, also known as a clinical research study, is a protocol to evaluate the effects and efficacy of experimental ...

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • crisis communication

    Crisis communication is a method of corresponding with people and organizations during a disruptive event to provide them with ...

  • Zerto

    Zerto is a storage software vendor that specializes in enterprise-class business continuity and disaster recovery in virtual and ...

  • crisis management plan (CMP)

    A crisis management plan (CMP) is a document that outlines the processes an organization will use to respond to a critical ...

SearchStorage

  • hard disk

    A hard disk is part of a unit -- often called a disk drive, hard drive or hard disk drive -- that stores and provides relatively ...

  • cache memory

    Cache memory, also called CPU memory, is high-speed static random access memory (SRAM) that a computer microprocessor can access ...

  • RAID 10 (RAID 1+0)

    RAID 10, also known as RAID 1+0, is a RAID configuration that combines disk mirroring and disk striping to protect data.

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • hybrid hard disk drive (HDD)

    A hybrid hard disk drive is an electromechanical spinning hard disk that contains some amount of NAND Flash memory.

Close