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Filipp Kirkorov, Russian pop singer
Sometimes a person's appearance can be very informative

Visual Identification of Sociotypes

Among western audiences the term "visual identification" — usually referred to as "V.I." — has come to mean typing people using photographs alone. In actuality, socionists type visually not only using photographs, but also any time they meet with people in person. They observe people's behavior, study their appearance, follow eye movements, make note of facial expressions, or use any number of other methods based on visually identifiable patterns that their experience tells them is related to type. In most cases, visual information is registered automatically (subconsciously) and is used as a supplement to verbal information obtained from conversation or interviewing. Experienced socionists have a mental data bank of hundreds or thousands of people they have typed, and look for similarities that trigger type versions that can then be pursued more purposefully.

While most socionists today use a combination of methods to type people, a few rely first and foremost on studying photographs. However, relatively few socionists are willing to sign their name under typings based on photographs alone. In addition, direct observations based on photographs are rarely emphasized in discussion between socionists, because there is no consensus as to which external qualities correlate to which socionic trait. Usually attempts to discuss photographs are quite primitive: "he looks like a Critic," "he has the eyes of a Marshal," etc. Such discussion is usually fruitless, and many socionists feel sheepish engaging in it:

Because socionics is first and foremost about psychic structures and their influence on relationships, the ultimate criteria for determining type will always be perceptual traits and their manifestations in interaction, and not external appearance.

Aushra Augusta and external type traits

Augusta made a number of statements about physiological type traits that have since been more or less debunked, or at least widely ignored because of their consistent inaccuracy:

  • all irrational types are by nature left-handed, while rational types are naturally right-handed
  • extraverts' left eye and left side of the face is more "lively" than the right, and the opposite is true for introverts
  • static types look at things at rest with the left eye and things in motion with the right; the opposite is true for dynamic types
  • she made a ranking of how wide open different types' eyes are; extraverted sensing and extraverted intuition types have the most squinting eyes, while introverted sensing and introverted intuition types have the most wide open eyes
    (I may have got some things wrong; I have not reviewed these things for several years)

In addition, Augusta's works contain scattered references to various other patterns in types' appearance and movements. For example, she mentioned LSE's stiff, "wooden-like posture."

In Augusta's footsteps, many other socionists developed their own sets of physical traits used for type diagnosis. I have seen people look at the shape of the palm (whether it is flat or rounded) and have people fold their arms to see which arm is on top. More common is to take into consideration peoples' gait, hair structure, mouth and nose shape, and everything related to the eyes (since eyes are the "mirror of the soul"). However, in discussion with other people, most socionists refer to such traits in passing as anecdotal evidence and do not focus on them. Behavior styles, mannerisms, and information structure are recognized as being more authoritative.

"Physiognomical socionics"

An extreme example of typing using anatomic traits is the "Typologist," a socionist from St. Petersburg who teaches "physiognomical socionics." Online translations of many of his articles can be viewed here. Lest one get carried away with his brand of socionics, note that, according to his methods, ILE is the most common type (30%), 90% of people are logical types, 75% are extraverts, and 70% are intuiters (link to article in Russian). Such typing distribution does not satisfy the basic condition of socionics, which is to create an effective typology of relationships. According to Typologist's statistics, no more than 20% of the population has any hope of finding duals, while the rest are doomed to a psychologically imbalanced life. The vast majority of other socionists, however, give a much more rounded view of type distribution.

My observations lead me to conclude that diagnosing types based solely on quantifiable anatomic traits leads to very uneven typing distribution and incorrect assessments of intertype relations, as a result of mistyping people.

Phrenology and physiognomy
I highly recommend browsing the Wikipedia articles on phrenology and physiognomy. The fact that the idea of connecting appearance and character keeps arising again and again throughout history suggests that there is in fact some kind of connection between the two, but all attempts to quantify these correlations so far have failed under the weight of empirical studies. Hence, I don't think we can expect socionic perceptual traits to directly correlate with certain anatomic traits either.

My experience with visual identification

I myself was trained in "visual type diagnostics" through the study of photographs and real-life observation. My teachers (primarily Aleksandr Kushnir, a socionist from Kiev) felt they were using a strict methodology, but in fact it was more a scattered collection of patterns and anecdotal observations with barely the appearance of a strict procedure. I was never able to formalize what I learned into a reliable system. We kept running into "exceptions" to the rules — people who had a different eye shape, for example, but clearly belonged to a certain type. I eventually completely dismissed the idea of an "active eye" or "active side of the face" (supposedly tied to extraversion and introversion), finding that even people who claim to use this in type diagnosis are themselves rarely able to tell for sure which side is active. If they can't see it, who can?

What I use today
Today my focus in visual identification is not on deducing type based on separate traits but on trying to see the big picture of what information people convey to their environment through their expressions and appearance, and what states of mind are reflected in their face and body. I continue to make note of all sorts of patterns in facial features and appearance, but I consider none of these patterns to be authoritative in and of themselves. I believe that the obvious presence of such patterns is what keeps physiognomy alive in its various forms. Each socionic type, however, seems to include many different combinations of traits, and no one external trait is ever absolutely indicative of a type, as it can be found among representatives of other types as well.

To illustrate, let's look at my collection of sensing logical extraverts. At the moment I have six of them on the page — Mike Tyson, Dick Cheney, Quentin Tarantino, Anthony Hopkins, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell.

Five of the six have a rectangular eye shape, like this:

  Only one of them (Madeleine Albright) has a round eye shape:

Four of the six have markedly arched eyebrows or tend to arch them in various facial expressions. Two have flat eyebrows (Tarantino and Hopkins). These two also have wide, prominent foreheads and more tapering jaws, making them appear more "cerebral" (which in fact they probably are). The others have rounder heads.

Each of them tends to grimace or sneer instead of smiling outright, and each of them has a characteristic look where they tilt the head slightly foreward and look out intently from beneath their eyebrows. However, some SLE's do the opposite and tilt their head back, looking down from above. Their gaze is calm and steady, rarely wild or intruiging, and transmits a sense of confidence and readiness to confront one's environment.

Each of the traits discussed here can also be found among people of other types. Only by studying a collection of photos or observing the person over a period of time can one be sure that the intent of these gazes and expressions is actually to convey a extraverted sensingintroverted logic type message — readiness to confront the outside world. Even when SLE's are not very self-confident, they still convey this message.

Constructive discussion of visual impressions used in typing

Impressions of people's type obtained from visual observation are no worse or less authoritative than impressions obtained through other means; the difficulty is conveying these impressions to other people in a constructive way. In all my experience observing visual diagnosis attempts on socionics forums, I almost never see what I would consider constructive discussion. In real-life discussions the situation is not much better. People seem to be too lazy to verbalize their observations and impressions and instead immediately jump to type conclusions.

Nonconstructive statements:
"He is just like my friend, who is an LSE."
"The heavy jaw speaks of extraverted sensing."
"He has the eyes of a EIE."
"I'm telling you, he is an ESI. Just look at him. Just look at how he smiles."

Each of these statements require that we take something on faith, not having sufficient information to make our own judgments. These statements also cannot be refuted, because they do not focus on factual information.

Constructive statements:
"He seems like someone who would... (description)"
"He has a threatening expression most of the time."
"His expressions are very changeable, and his smile is very warm."
"He has a blank look everywhere."

Note that these statements do not provide an immediate type conclusion, but focus on developing observations and making inferences about the person's life or personality that can be verified or refuted by studying the person's biography and others' impressions of him. These statements can lead to a more correct perception of the person being typed, which in turn will help in type diagnosis. In addition, participants of such discussions are free to make their own judgments regarding the correlation between the traits noted and the person's socionic type.

Which photographs are informative

Not all photographs are created equal. In fact, many pictures are utterly useless for discerning personality and temperamental traits — for example, when you can't see the person's eyes, where he or she is making a funny face, or when the photo is too dark or too light to make out any details. Carefully posed, artistic pictures are often useless as well, no matter how high the resolution. A good example are photo models who all practice making the same sensual faces and poses and concealing their individuality to portray a gender stereotype.

Let's take a hint from passports and other important documents used for identification. These pictures are taken straight on, without glasses, and show the face very clearly. In addition, in many countries (but not the U.S.) people are not allowed to smile during these photos. Such pictures are best for identification purposes because they do not allow the person being photographed to portray the image that he would like. For this very reason people rarely like their passport or driver license photos and find them unflattering. This is because the format of the photo does not allow them to present themselves the way their self-identity would prefer. Such pictures are very useful for typing and judging a person's personality and temperament.

Also good are any spontaneous pictures where the person is looking more or less straight on, preferably with the eyes on the camera lens. Posed pictures are good only if the subject is being photographed together with other people (!). Interestingly, pictures taken by oneself (especially with an outstretched arm) are poor for typing purposes because there is no context — no interpersonal interaction taking place at the moment the picture is taken. As you can see, there are quite a few subtleties involved.

Age factors
People seem to be easiest to type between the ages of about 25 and 60. During this period the person's individuality is most distinct, and external appearance the most differentiated (i.e. different from that of others). Children and elderly people tend to have less variation in appearance and information structure, with the exception of elderly people who have integrated their life into a single cause or understanding and continue to carry this purpose through into old age.

What information does appearance convey?

Humans are equipped with very sensitive mechanisms for face recognition and for gleaning information about other people based on their facial and physiological features, movements, facial expressions, and other physical characteristics. Different hormones — for example, testosterone and estrogen — leave subtle marks on the body and facial features, and their levels are picked up by surrounding people. This happens mostly unconsciously, but one can come to understand how these mechanisms work through research and self-study.

There may be other kinds of information besides hormone levels that are conveyed unconsciously through appearance — for instance, the degree of genetic similarity between people. In general, it would make sense that people would have some ability to "sniff out" potentially useful partners and potential opponents at a distance. This probably happens through a combination of studying appearance, temperament, and behavior from afar.

Some people are better at this than others and can infer quite a lot about a person from just looking at a few pictures or watching the person for a few minutes. This skill can also be developed, just as any other. Essentially, this is what my own visual identification is about. I look for connections to people I already know and develop my observation skills along with enlarging my data base of pictures and real-life experience. After six years and thousands of pictures and countless hours of study, I've gotten somewhere... Even so, I still come across unfamiliar looks that I can't figure out. By no means is it easy to learn!