Looks count

Personologists say physical features determine personality

Face time: Personologist Bill Whitesideof Folsom does a reding on client Leslie Rohrdanz

Face time: Personologist Bill Whitesideof Folsom does a reding on client Leslie Rohrdanz

Photo By Larry Dalton

Scientists for centuries have debated those factors that make up personality. Is it a result of genetics? Is it a result of an individual’s environment? Is it situation-specific? Or is it a combination of these factors?

This debate is expected to intensify as scientists around the world inch closer to applying new knowledge of human genetics in deciphering our past, understanding our present and mapping our future. And while scientists in Davis work with Celera Genomics Corp. to determine what makes an individual tick from the inside out, a group in Folsom seeks to explain behavior from the outside in.

The practice of “personology” promises proof that physical appearance has a link to behavior. Physical traits, such as the distance between a person’s eyes and the thickness of the upper lip, all offer key information, say believers.

Personologists say learning to read a person’s physical structure can help anticipate that person’s potential behavior. Such knowledge can prove valuable in career decisions, relationships, health-care settings, even sales situations.

“It’s not 100 percent. It’s not Nirvana. But, boy, does it make a difference in your life,” said Sandie Lampe, director of the Personology Institute of La Jolla.

Lampe hosted her group’s annual personology conference Oct. 28 in Sacramento, drawing people from around the country to learn about the burgeoning belief that looks count. Yet the Sacramento area is already a hotbed of personology adherents.

One of personology’s leading voices is Bill Whiteside, vice president of the Personology Institute and president of Innovative Behavior Concepts in Folsom. His book, Nature’s Message, outlines the beliefs and arguments behind personology.

Personology’s basic premise is that the physical traits we genetically inherit form a blueprint of our personalities. So if you want to understand someone’s personality—including your own—then learn to read their physical traits. Personologists have broken down that blueprint into five trait areas: physical, action, thinking, feeling/emotion and automatic expression.

For example, the feeling/emotion trait area is centered around the eyes. One quality within this trait area is tolerance. To learn whether a person is “easygoing,” a personologist would measure the width of a person’s eye and compare it to the distance between that person’s eyes.

“People with considerable distance between their eyes (easygoing) take longer to react or respond to what goes on around them. People with little distance between their eyes (close focus) react quicker to what they see or hear,” reads a handout from a recent personology seminar.

Such observations seem to hark bark to the discredited “science” of phrenology, which relied on examining the bumps and indentations of the skull to indicate intellect. Phrenology is infamous for its application in declaring people criminals and in perpetuating racial stereotypes during the 1800s.

“We are not phrenology, updated,” Lampe said. “We use the whole body, not just the cranium.”

Personology has roots in several areas, including anatomy, genetics, physiology and neurology, says William Burtis, president of the Personology Institute. He holds a master’s degree in human resources and has been associated with the institute since 1956, participating in many of the studies behind the theories.

Still, it’s hard not to see the parallels to phrenology. Whiteside said a person’s thinking style may be evident in the forehead structure. A vertical forehead indicates a sequential thinker, someone who reasons step-by-step.

The vertical shape says that this person has more brain cells dedicated to thinking, according to Burtis, slowing down the rate at which new information is absorbed. Conversely, a sloping forehead suggests someone who thinks objectively, relying on past experience and knowledge of the object rather than the process. An objective thinker wants to get to the point quickly.

Yet the main scientific community is skeptical about personology’s sometimes bold claims. While acknowledging that physiology and genetics do play a role in personality psychology, Debby Senna says personology may be too quick of a route to a rather complex process. Senna is a psychotherapist and psychology instructor at American River College.

“It sounds fun and interesting, and it may lend itself to understanding behavior in some situations,” Senna said. “We all know people who, by trait, are a little quirky. But these may be some fleeting traits, reflecting the circumstances people are in.”

Nonetheless, the Personology Institute lists more Sacramento residents among its affiliates than those of any other single city.

Sacramento artist Rhonda Smith became a certified personologist in the early 1980s. The certification process requires college coursework in the study’s major scientific disciplines and an apprenticeship under a practicing personologist.

Although Smith set personology aside for a while to raise a family, she has returned with hopes of teaching basic traits classes and doing trait charts for people. She’s even leased space in downtown Sacramento, where she can practice her craft.

“It’s been extremely helpful to me as to where to guide my life as far as vocation and education,” Smith said. “I’m interested in integrating it into schools.”

While Whiteside’s focus is helping organizations heighten awareness of interpersonal communication skills, rather than identifying and classifying traits, other personologists employ the knowledge in their own business transactions.

Sacramento resident Betty Little became certified 25 years ago. She says personology has helped her relate to people, especially in business negotiations.

“In sales, I’d know whether a person would want me to hurry up or take my time, talk softly or be more aggressive—just a lot of little things that add up,” Little said. “But I don’t just see people and look for their traits. I look at people and enjoy them, but if some red flag goes up, I’ll start looking.”

Little says employers would do well to be familiar with a few traits. A restaurant owner, for example, probably seeks people who are naturally optimistic and friendly. A “swoopy nose,” like Lucille Ball’s, could indicate a good candidate, as opposed to a bumpy nose, like George Washington’s.

“Placing the right person in the right spot can save a lot of money," she added.