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Definition: physiognomy from The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology

The physical appearance of the face.


Specifically, the use of the face and facial expressions to judge mental abilities, character, emotional attitudes, etc. Meaning 1 represents a simple exercise in description; meaning 2 is sheer quackery - see e.g. LOMBROSIAN THEORY.

Summary Article: physiognomy
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

The features and expression of the face, and the art of judging character from it. As a theory, physiognomy is ancient but has no established scientific basis.

In China, the art of reading character and fortune from the face and other bodily characteristics goes back at least to the 3rd century BC. The most ancient Chinese text on the subject is Ma-i, dating from about 1000 AD. Other classics are the Pa P'u Tzu (c. 1400 AD), and the Golden Scissors 1700 AD, which summarizes the other two. Over the centuries, palmistry and physiognomy have attracted criticism within China as being superstitious or a way of profiting from the gullible, and such practices were severly censored under the communist government, but their popularity continues.

The Chinese art of physiognomy is based on the principle that the body is a microcosm of the universe, and the face is a microcosm of the body. Like the universe, physical characteristics depend on the interaction of yin and yang. Heaven, Earth, and Humanity for a finely-balanced triad which reflects the harmony of yin and yang. The balance of yin and yang in any individual is described in terms of five ‘elements’: water, fire, metal, earth, and wood, which give rise to characteristics that can be found in everything in the universe.

Scientific interest in it was first aroused by the work of the Swiss mystic Johann Lavater (1741–1804). The English naturalist Charles Darwin, in his book Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals 1873, suggested that the evolution of body structures in animals had a connection with their predominant emotions.

In Japanese physiognomy (ninsō), as many as 62 different aspects of the face are taken into account.

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