Rich Man, Poor Man

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Are you trying to decide if people are rich or poor? Forget about judging them by their clothes. Simply look at their face, research shows

You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but can you tell whether a person is wealthy simply by looking at their face?

Actually, you can — and with surprising accuracy — according to a 2017 experiment that has recently gone viral. Minda Zetlin, co-author of “The Geek Gap,” writes about the unusual experiment for Inc.com.

“Despite the adage that money can’t buy happiness, it turns out that wealthier people do look happier,” she writes.

In the experiment, conducted at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, subjects examined photographs of 160 men and women pulled from dating websites. Half the photos showed people with incomes above $150,000 a year, and half showed people making less than $35,000 a year. The people in the photos all had neutral expressions, and the researchers edited and cropped out factors that might influence the subjects, such as backgrounds, tattoos, piercings and clothing styles.

When asked about the wealth of the individuals in the photos, the subjects were able to guess with 68% accuracy, enough to rule out mere random chance.

To determine how they were doing it, the researchers ran variations of the experiment in which the subjects examined only portions of the faces in the photos. And what did they find?

“Although subjects could always make the most accurate determinations from entire faces, the researchers found that mouths, and to a lesser extent eyes, gave participants the greatest ability to correctly categorize people in the photos as rich or poor,” Zetlin writes.

Such instinctive judgments could influence hiring decisions (or a shopper’s interests), she notes.

“Unconscious judgments and biases like these seem to be notoriously hard to fight,” she writes, “but staying aware of them is the first step.”