Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Nelson’s heroism written all over his face?

by Kathryn Hadley

To celebrate their 150th anniversary and its strong naval heritage, Woods’ 100 Old Navy Rum recently launched a project to find out what it means to be a hero for people in the UK today. During the month of June researchers interviewed 1,000 people from across the UK. The results of their research revealed that for 41% of people members of the army and the navy were considered the most heroic. A quarter of those questioned viewed doctors and paramedics as particularly heroic, followed by the police and fire services (23%). You may ask, however, where history fits into the survey...

The second part of the research project was carried out by Naomi Tickle, an international personologist and author of You Can Read a Face Like a Book, who identified the key facial characteristics that epitomise heroism. To test her theory, she applied these characteristics to a portrait of Viscount Horatio Nelson in order to ascertain whether or not he displayed the traits and whether they were common among today’s heroes and leaders. According to Tickle, Nelson had a Roman nose, a square forehead that was also high and sloped back, set back ears, a pointed chin, oval eyebrows and exposed eyelids. The outer corners of his eyes were also lower than the inner corners and his head was wider at the back. All these traits are allegedly symbols of heroism. A Roman nose reveals, for example, management skills and an ability to delegate and oversee people. A pointed chin is a sign of stubbornness and tenacity and oval eyebrows show that Nelson was good at bringing ideas together, organising his thoughts and expressing them clearly.

Naomi Tickle explained her findings:
‘The relationship between the physical facial structure and personality has been
well researched since the 1920's. Whether it’s traditionally heroic traits like
a Roman nose or more obscure characteristics such as a square forehead, heroic
people do share similar facial features, and Nelson is no exception. These are
also present on the faces of powerful figures today, whether it’s world leaders,
sportsmen, or simply brave people we know.’

Personology is the relationship between physical features and personality. Research was first carried out by Edward Jones, a California judge, in the 1930s, when he noticed a pattern between the facial traits and the behaviour of hundreds of people who appeared before him in court. It has allegedly proved to be 92% accurate.

Personally, I am not entirely convinced. I wonder if the study has been extended to other historic heroes. Do these conclusions mean that someone who does not have a Roman nose, a pointed chin, exposed eyelids and oval eyebrows cannot be a hero? Reversely, were then any heroes in history that had none of these facial features? Lastly, how do we define a hero? Do our historic heroes not go up and down in popularity in accordance with the political trends of a particular time and as their careers and lives are increasingly researched?

Was it Horatio Nelson’s successful and surprisingly modern leadership strategy that made him a hero? For further information read our article Nelson and Mission Command
For further information on how public art was used in Britain to celebrate Nelson as a national hero, both during and after his lifetime, read our article Painting, Propaganda and Patriotism
For an insight into some of the complexities of Nelson’s character, read our article Nelson: Admirable Lord

- Wax effigy of Nelson in the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
- One of the portraits of Nelson used in the study

1 comment:

Derry Nairn said...

Its a tricky business, this phrenology, eh? Essentially, the wonderfully-monikered Naomi Tickle is assigning judgements according to physical appearance.

In my opinion, that doesn't fall too far short of full-blown racism. After all, how many African people can you name with a Roman nose? How many Asians don't have exposed eyelids?

Even more full of holes is the fact that different characters are seen as heroic in different places. Cromwell is seen as war criminal in Ireland, but revered in England. Do the Iraqis and Afghani people find the British army quite as heroic as the Brits?

Its all very silly really.

Blog Directory