How we judge new people is often a completely unconscious process based on facial features alone. On one hand, this sounds totally shallow and has the harsh sting of high school all over again, but on the other hand, this is logical; we’re immediately drawn to faces. It's neither fair nor reasonable to form an opinion about a person's whole being after looking at their face for a tenth of a second, but we do it anyway. It’s only natural - even newborns pass judgment based on facial features (and they prefer looking at hot people).As it would turn out, facial features are a veritable treasure trove of information. We generally guess with some accuracy whether people are healthy or sick, extroverted or introverted, and even when two people have been married a long time. Sometimes we even get scarily specific, like our belief that hockey players with broader faces (a generally aggressive-seeming feature) tend to commit more penalties than those with softer features. From logical to ludicrous, here’s a list of how we judge people based on their faces.
Would You Like to Hear About Our Lord and Savior Epidermis?
Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Mormonism? In the same way most in-groups believe they can recognize their kind just by sight, some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints say that they can instantly tell who's Mormon and who isn't. How? By looking at their skin - rather, the condition of it (not their nametags).
Researchers set out to test this hypothesis in a 2010 study and established that Mormon participants did a better-than-chance job at determining Mormonism just from observing still headshots of members and non-members. To determine what was tipping people off, the researchers started isolating individual characteristics by covering up facial features, such as eyes or mouths, and concluded participants were able to identify their own just from skin texture alone.
One theory to explain the phenomenon pertains to their lifestyle habits; Mormons abstain from tobacco, alcohol, and coffee (and tend to live 10 years longer than the average person due to these lifestyle choices). These consumables are known to negatively impact the skin, so it’s possible Mormons unconsciously knew to look for healthy skin as an indicator of kinship even though the participants may not have realized this was what they were noticing.
Elections Are Basically Beauty Pageants for Old Politicians
Ever look at someone holding a political office and think “how the hell did they get there”? It turns out faces play a huge part in the election process. A landmark 2005 study found that, given no information about a pair of political candidates except their pictures, participants could offer an instantaneous guess as to which one was more competent. What’s surprising is that the pictures were of actual candidates, and those guessed to be more competent often won their elections (the guesses were 69% accurate overall).
The specific features participants noted weren't recorded, but they usually inferred more positive things about attractive candidates and mostly believed older candidates were more competent. A follow-up study found that these findings are more prevalent in Western elections than in other countries; for example, in South Korea, face-trait inferences have less impact than actual political prowess and experience.
Need to Pass a Lie Detector Test? Shape Your Brows!
Now we understand the eyebrow craze! A 2014 study attempted to judge not just which features inspire trust, but how much those features influence how we characterize someone's real-world actions. Participants were asked to consider the decision by a fictional CEO to cut pay for all staff (himself included). Whether the attached picture showed a trustworthy or untrustworthy face heavily influenced these responses.
The results were eye(brow) opening: CEOs with trustworthy eyebrows (a ^ shape instead of a v shape) and upturned mouths were given the benefit of the doubt; participants reasoned that there was no alternative for these CEOs other than the pay cut. Given the exact same information but presented with an untrustworthy face, participants tended to believe the CEO should've come up with a better solution. Makes you want to bring along an eyebrow kit to your next important meeting!
Ugly People Are Bad Parents (According to Our Unconscious Asshole Brains)
Can pretty people do anything wrong? Apparently we unconsciously believe they’re perfect. One study from 1998 investigated the effects of dimorphism (masculinity/femininity) on overall attractiveness, taking composite faces of men and women and then making their features more or less masculine, and more or less feminine, respectively.
To no one's surprise, very feminine female faces were considered more attractive; however, participants also preferred the feminine male faces. Participants also associated a whole slew of negative connotations with the masculinized male faces, assuming they indicated the person was colder and more dishonest. Even their parenting skills were called into question, meaning there might be something to that whole ugly evil stepmother thing.