We already know that what we wear and what we own can give away where we stand on the social ladder. But apparently there are parts of our socioeconomic status that can’t be bought. According to one new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, how much money we have is written all over our faces.
University of Toronto researchers wanted to see how much we can infer from facial cues alone, so they recruited 81 college students to look at photographs of 160 white men and women between the ages of 18 and 35.
Researchers were purposeful about choosing photos that didn’t have loaded signifiers so that participants couldn’t make assumptions about tattoos, piercings or facial hair. They also cropped faces so participants couldn’t see height, and they put all of the photos in greyscale.
All that was left for participants to look at were faces. Half of the people in these photos reported annual incomes over $150,000 and half reported incomes below $35,000.
When participants were asked to guess which face was rich and which was poor, they were right more than half of the time, making the results more than random chance.
What’s that on your face? It’s wealth.
Researchers believe that our mouths may be giving us away. In a separate experiment, researchers had participants guess socioeconomic status based on cropped photos of just eyes or mouths, and people who just had mouths to judge were more accurate than those who had eyes. So mouths, not eyes, may be the windows to our souls.
“Once we figured out it was these subtle emotional expressions, it makes a lot of sense that the mouth would be showing most of that, because the mouth is what you mostly use, especially with positive emotions, like smiling,” the study’s lead author Nicholas O. Rule told CNN.
In general, any sign of positivity seen on the face correlated to that person being wealthy.
That makes sense. Money can make all the difference between a bright-eyed picture of happiness and a stressed, harried look of ‘help, I’m in debt’ in the worry lines around your mouth. Over time, those feelings become permanently etched on your face.
“One’s facial musculature may hypertrophy and one’s skin may fold in ways that reflect these repeated expressions, resulting in a neutral or resting appearance that resembles the person’s baseline, or most frequent, feeling state,” researchers wrote.
In other words, your life’s experiences, whether good or bad, are telegraphed on your face.
Your face muscles can even have lasting repercussions on your employability. When participants were asked to rate the likelihood that the person in the face photo would successfully get a job as an accountant, they chose the rich group over the poor group.
This is a troubling finding that shows how first impressions can perpetuate class differences: people who look stressed and poor will not get jobs over those who look relaxed and rich. And this is one first impression that’s hard to change. You can change what you wear, but you can’t change your face.
One possible answer: Even if you are facing financial difficulties, work on focusing on the good things in your life and finding ways to relieve your stress. Keeping a positive outlook will be written on your face, which could lead you to be picked when positive financial opportunities become available.