People can guess if an individual is rich or poor just by looking at their face, and such indicators can even influence job prospects, a study has found. Using an annual median family income of about USD 75,000 as a benchmark, researchers from University of Toronto in Canada grouped student volunteers into those with total family incomes under USD 60,000 or above USD 100,000 and then had them pose for photos with neutral faces devoid of expression. They then asked a separate group of participants to look at the photos and, using nothing but their gut instinct, decide which ones were ‘rich or poor’ just by looking at the faces.
The team was able to determine which student belonged to the rich or poor group with about 53 per cent accuracy, a level that exceeds random chance.
Researchers also found that this indicator of a person’s economic standing may even act as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ that influences social interactions and
“Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have,” said Thora Bjornsdottir, PhD student at University of Toronto.
“What we are seeing is students who are just 18-22 years old have already accumulated enough life experience that it has visibly changed and shaped their face to the point you can tell what their socio-economic standing or social class is,” said Nicholas Rule, associate professor at University of Toronto.
“Over time, your face comes to permanently reflect and reveal your experiences. Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there,” Rules added.
There are neurons in the brain that specialise in facial recognition. The face is the first thing you notice when you look at somebody, researchers said.
Researchers also found that the ability to read a person’s social class only applies to their neutral face and not when people are smiling or expressing emotions.
Emotions mask life-long habits of expression that become etched on a person’s face even by their late teens or early adulthood, such as frequent happiness, which is stereotypically associated with being wealthy and satisfied, they said.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.