Facial coloration (i.e., transient changes in a face’s color, like blushing or pallor) is laden with social information, such as cues to emotional state, health, and attractiveness. My research focuses on a social functional account of facial coloration in interpersonal communication to understand how social information is uniquely conveyed by changes in facial coloration. Below, I describe central components of this account, and discuss how I study them by leveraging theory and methods from social cognition, affective science, evolutionary psychology, computational vision, psychophysics, and psychophysiology.

To understand how facial coloration facilitates adaptive functioning across a range of social situations,  my research is organized by three interconnected premises: 

1) People express facial coloration in social situations (Production)

2) People detect facial coloration of others (Perception)

3) People interpret facial coloration as meaningful social information, which influences social inferences (Evaluation)


Facial color naturally changes due to physiological reactivity, like vasoconstriction and vasodilation. Emotion, physical health, and proceptivity all involve physiological reactivity that modifies skin coloration.  I investigate how social situations induce measurable changes in facial coloration


Recent theoretical accounts suggest that color vision in humans evolved to help detect subtle skin color changes to better distinguish important social states in others. My research explores how aspects of our visual system and social-cognition work to detect these social characteristics.


Facial coloration provides meaningful social information that influences evaluations of others. In ongoing work, I am investigating the influence of facial coloration on a wide range of social evaluations, including attraction, health, emotion, personality, intentions, and approach/avoidance behavior.  


Featured Publications

Social perception of facial color appearance for human trichromatic versus dichromatic color vision

Thorstenson, C. A., Pazda, A. D., & Elliot, A. J. (2020)

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


Humans' typical color vision is trichromatic, because our eyes have 3 distinct light-sensitive receptors, called cones. Scholars have suggested that we evolved trichromacy in order to distinguish important types of objects, from foods to faces. We found evidence that trichromacy is particularly important for distinguishing social states (emotion, healthiness, attractiveness) from faces. 


Christopher Thorstenson

Social Color Perception Researcher