Science Says Your Social Class Is Written All Over Your Face

Strangers guessed your social class? Research says it's your face to blame!

Image courtesy of Gratisography

I once had a boss who hated rich people. Every statement I uttered translated in his head into, “I’m holier than thou.” He told one of the bosses that my coworkers hated me ‘because the anklet I wore was made of pure gold’. He told another boss I bragged about going to English-speaking schools. He told a third boss I didn’t get along with anyone ‘because I was born into a wealthy family’.

In my country, if you were loaded and corrupt, people will gladly kiss your a$$, whereas if you earned good money from working hard and being ethical, they will loathe you and destroying you will become the sole purpose of their lives.

Nevertheless, what that boss thought was not my problem because he was always keen on sabotaging my reputation. I was concerned with the fact that I never said I was rich but he was convinced I was! The anklet I wore a few times to office was made of brass and I never wore clothes which screamed “luxury brand”. I told him I went to English schools when he asked in fake skepticism, “How come your English is so excellent when you majored in Computer Science?”–which sounded like, “How come you ate fish and chips when you’ve ordered cheeseburger?” Utter nonsense.

I never complained about the office being in a terrible condition and, like everyone else, I relied either on my feet or public transportation for my commute. No one from that company ever visited me at home and I was new in town.

How could anyone in that workplace possibly label me a ‘rich kid’?

A recent study conducted by PhD candidate R. Thora Bjornsdottir and Associate Professor Nicholas O. Rule at the University of Toronto, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in May 29th, 2017, under the title “The Visibility of Social Class From Facial Cues”, concluded that “people can reliably tell if someone is richer or poorer than average just by looking at a neutral face without any expression.”

According to the paper, life-long habits of expression–like frequent happiness, which is stereotypically associated with being wealthy and satisfied–become etched on a person’s face even by their late teens or early adulthood, so over time, our faces come to permanently reflect and reveal our experiences. “Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there.” 

“There are neurons in the brain that specialize in facial recognition. The face is the first thing you notice when you look at somebody,” explains Rule, “We see faces in clouds, we see faces in toast. We are sort of hardwired to look for face-like stimuli. And this is something people pick up very quickly. And they are consistent, which is what makes it statistically significant.”

Yet, there is a way to mask whether you were rich or otherwise. The study indicates that the ability to read a person’s social class “only applies to their neutral faces” and not when one is expressing emotions. Glue a smile to your face and people will think you’re cuckoo, or keep frowning until no one wants to look at you… at least they won’t be guessing how rich or poor you are.

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