“You can’t tell what someone’s really like just by looking at them,” my mother told me once. But then again she also told me that “first impressions last,” and it turns out she was right on both counts – despite the seeming contradiction.
People also act on these snap judgements. Politicians with competent-looking faces have a greater chance of being elected, and CEOs who look dominant are more likely to run a profitable company. Baby-faced men and those with compassionate-looking faces tend to be over-represented in the caring professions. Soldiers deemed to look dominant tend to rise faster through the ranks, while their baby-faced comrades tend to be weeded out early. When baby-faced men appear in court they are more likely than their mature-faced peers to be exonerated from a crime. However, they are also more likely to be found guilty of negligence.
There is also a well-established “attractiveness halo”. People seen as good-looking not only get the most valentines but are also judged to be more outgoing, socially competent, powerful, sexually responsive, intelligent and healthy. They do better in all manner of ways, from how they are greeted by other people to how they are treated by the criminal justice system.
In other words, we all do it instinctively… as much as we might like to think otherwise. The latest research implies that it’s almost certainly an overgeneralisation based on an evolved response, but that means it’s been there for thousands of years, and probably isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Will we eventually end up with a political class that look like clones of one another*, all carefully sculpted to have agreeable and trustworthy by the most subtle and discerning elective surgeries? Will soldiers be re-cut to look more intimidating and fearless? What other subtle messages might we hide in our faces… and what would our willingness to do so say about the true character beneath? [via FuturePundit; image by xenia antunes]
[ * – OK, I meant even more so than currently. ]