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A lot of research has been conducted by researchers and psychologists to gain information about characteristics and emotions of a person from facial cues. Dr. Paul Ekman, an American psychologist pioneered the research of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. Many researchers have researched deeper based on foundation of his work. From detecting a lie to determining emotions of a person, the research in the field of facial expressions has progressed significantly. The recent research on facial cues stated, there is a strong probability that people can tell if a person is rich or not by looking at their faces.

The study titled, “The Visibility of Social Class From Facial Cues,” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Previous researches have shown that there is a relationship between socio-economic class and well-being. In general, people with money tend to live happier and less anxious lives as compared to those who have been struggling to make their ends meet. R. Thora Bjornsdottir, a graduate student at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study along with her team indicated how well-being differences are reflected in people’s faces. Bjornsdottir and Nicholas O. Rule, a co-author of the study and psychology professor, conducted the research on various ethnicities of people. The database consisted of gray-scale photographs of 80 white males and 80 white females. None of them had piercings or tattooing. Half of the photos were of people who earned more than $150,000 a year, which was considered as upper class. While the other half consisted of people who earned less than $35,000, considered as working class.

When researchers asked subjects to determine the socio-economic class of people from the photos, subjects were correct 68 percent of times. This figure is considerably higher than predictions made randomly. Rule outlined that he did not think gray-scale effects will be much strong, given how small the differences were in the faces.

“People are not really aware of what cues they are using when they make these judgments,” Bjornsdottir told the University of Toronto. “If you ask them why, they don’t know. They are not aware of how they are doing this.”

Though subjects were not aware of how they were determining it correctly, researchers wanted to know. So, they zoomed in to the images to extract facial features. They discovered that subjects were able to guess correctly by noticing eyes and mouth. Mouth gave a clue in better way than others. However, the isolated parts did not guide them to arrive at the decision. Researchers found that this effect could take place due to emotion patterns getting etched into faces over time. The chronic contraction of few muscles could lead to changes in facial structure. These changes can be picked up by others.

When researchers showed happy expressions of people to subjects, they were not able to determine their social-economic status. The expressions needed to be neutral to let people get subtle cues about the status. Rule told the University of Toronto, “Over time, your face comes to permanently reflect and reveal your experiences. Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there.”


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