People can make a fairly good judgment about how many shiny metal coins you have in your bank balance just by looking at your face, according to a new bit of research. The team on the project say this could even explain how prejudices help maintain cycles of poverty.
Psychologists from the University of Toronto have discovered that people are moderately accurate at predicting whether someone is richer or poorer than average just by looking at an image of their expressionless face.
You can try it out for yourself in the image below. The study was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"It indicates that something as subtle as the signals in your face about your social class can actually then perpetuate it," study author Thora Bjornsdottir said in a statement. "Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It's going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have."
They asked participants to look at a series of photographs showing people's neutral faces. They had to make a split-second “gut feeling” decision about whether they earned less or more than an average median family income. Over 53 percent of the time, a level that exceeds random chance, they were accurate. Factors such as race and gender did not affect the results.
“People are not really aware of what cues they are using when they make these judgments," said Bjornsdottir. "If you ask them why, they don't know. They are not aware of how they are doing this."
However, there is a way to overcome this. The study suggests that the perception of somebody’s social class was only more predictable if their face remained neutral and expressionless. The second they pulled an expression, like smiling or anger, all bets were off.
The researchers argue that this ability is possible because of general habits of expression that become integrated into our neutral expression. If a person has had a comfortable and satisfying life, the theory goes that this becomes “etched on a person's face.”
“What we're 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," added Associate Professor Nicholas Rule.
This, in turn, could even affect your chances in a job interview. The study also showed that the participants felt that the “rich faces” were more likely to be hired for a job than the "poor faces".
"People talk about the cycle of poverty, and this is potentially one contributor to that," Rule concluded.