Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Jacques Oosthuizen

Second Supervisor

Dr Leesa Costello

Third Supervisor

Dr Marcus Cattani


Physiognomy, the practice of looking to another person’s outward facial appearance to unmask the inner character of that person, has had a diverse historical impact within art, medicine, theology, anthropology, law, criminology, political history, psychology, psychiatry, and popular culture, since it was conceptualised in Greece during the 5th and 4th centuries B.C (Physiognomy, 1999-2009, 2009a). Aristotle, the prominent Greek philosopher, penned many chapters on physiognomic properties and touched upon strength/weakness, genius/stupidity, and other trait characteristics and their opposites in so far as such characteristics were associated with facial form (Physiognomy, 2006, 2009b).

In more modern times, facial recognition and evaluation of faces is seen as a function of evolution that has significance with regard to approach/avoidance behaviour (Oosterhof & Todorov, 2008). These authors found that evaluation of emotionally neutral faces can be explained by judgements of two traits, facial trustworthiness and facial dominance, and that these traits can be related to the facial expressions for happy and angry, respectively. Evidence from advertising, psychological, and neurobiological experiments show that facial physiognomy, the concept that a person’s character can be revealed from their facial features, influences cognitive and emotional judgements. The belief is that people possess the ability to read the character of another person from facial expressions and facial appearance. People make trait judgements based on facial physiognomy (Highfield, Wiseman, & Jenkins, 2009). The exploration of facial physiognomy is an ever increasing endeavour, particularly when people make social judgements to infer another person’s ability to harm or the ability to cause harm (Oosterhof & Toderov, 2009; Oosterhof & Todorov, 2008).

In this mixed method study, computer software was used to morph the facial physiognomy of an endorser, actor, model or spokesperson as shown in the context of an occupational safety and health promotional message. This study endeavoured to establish to what extent facial presentation, and the evaluation thereof, influences the effectiveness of health promotional images. Five versions of facial physiognomy were explored along trustworthy/untrustworthy and dominant/passive dimensions. The advertising believability scale was utilised as a primary measure of advertisement validity (Beltramini, 1988). For comparison purposes Ohanian’s (1990) source-credibility scale for evaluating endorser attractiveness, trustworthiness, and expertise was also utilised as a measuring instrument. Endorser dominance was measured with the perceived dominance scale (Manusov, 2005). Qualitative data was collected using semi-structured in-depth interviews to analyse the process of endorser selection. Transcribed interviews were coded and thematically analysed. These data were considered particularly useful to inform the creative strategy of marketing professionals in the development of visual domain advertising. Quantitative data was collected with the aid of a structured questionnaire designed to measure recall of a safety message, agreement with the message, the likelihood of practicing the behaviours presented in the message, and belief of the information presented in the message. Quantitative data were analysed utilising descriptive statistics, advanced parametric statistics, tables, figures and graphs. Data from both qualitative and quantitative sources were compared and interpreted as a whole; juxtaposed against underlying theory. This study contributes new knowledge to occupational safety and health promotion by examining endorser facial graphics in creative artwork and gauging messages effectiveness in light of the facial representation. The research has utility for academics, advertising, marketing, health promotion, and occupational safety and health practitioners involved in the development of promotional materials through evidence-based practices, endorser selection, image enhancement, and advertising awareness. An original and significant contribution will be made to the occupational safety and health literature.