Your ‘neutral’ face can tell people whether you’re rich or poor
These impressions can also be used in biased ways, such as judging the rich faces more likely than the poor ones to be hired for a job.Updated: Jul 06, 2017 18:19 IST
You may think you can hide your true economic standing, but your expression will always betray you, according to a recent study.
In a new twist on first impressions, the University of Toronto study found that people can reliably tell if someone is richer or poorer than average just by looking at a ‘neutral’ face, without any expression. People also use those impressions in biased ways, such as judging the rich faces more likely than the poor ones to be hired for a job, said researcher Thora Bjornsdottir.
“It indicates that something as subtle as the signals in your face about your social class can actually then perpetuate it,” noted Bjornsdottir. “Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have.” Just as interestingly, the researchers found the ability to read a person’s social class only applies to their neutral face and not when people are smiling or expressing emotions.
Their conclusion is that 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. “Over time, your face comes to permanently reflect and reveal your experiences,” said Rule. “Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there.”
The results were not affected by the race or gender of the face, or how much time people were given to study them. All of which is consistent with what is known about non-verbal behaviour. The study of social classes as an undercurrent in psychology and behaviour is getting more recognition, said Rule. And with 43 muscles concentrated in a relatively small area, facial cues are one of the most intriguing areas in this field. “People talk about the cycle of poverty, and this is potentially one contributor to that,” said Rule. The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
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