PhD candidate Pin Pin Tea-makorn and Prof. Michal Kosinski have been seeking evidence to support the question of whether the faces of people in long-term relationships start to look the same over time. Their recently published article, "Spouses' faces are similar but do not become more similar with time" provides the answer in the title.
"It is something people believe in and we were curious about it," said Pin Pin Tea-makorn, an EE PhD candidate. "Our initial thought was if people's faces do converge over time, we could look at what types of features they converge on."
Pin Pin collected and analyzed thousands of public photos of couples. From these she compiled a database of pictures from 517 couples, taken within two years of tying the knot and between 20 and 69 years later.
The study has highlighted the importance of going back through past studies and checking their validity. "This is definitely something the field needs to update," said Kosinski. "One of the major problems in social sciences is the pressure to come up with novel, amazing, newsworthy theories. This is how you get published, hired, and tenured. As a result the field is filled with concepts and theories that are reclaimed, over-hyped, or not validated properly."
Kosinski praised Pin Pin for taking on the project, as he said many scientists were reluctant to "rock the boat" and reveal potential flaws in other researchers' work. "Cleaning up the field might be the most important challenge faced by social scientists today, yet she is surely not going to get as many citations or as much recognition for her work as she would get if she came up with something new and flashy," he said.
One of the researchers' next projects is to investigate claims that people's names can be predicted with any accuracy from their faces alone. "We're sceptical," Kosinski said.
Excerpted from The Guardian, Science, "Researchers crack question of whether couples start looking alike", October 2020
Pin Pin's research involves computational psychology, focusing on using facial recognition systems to study interpersonal relationships. Pin Pin is EE's graduate student advisor.