Do you have a rich or poor face?

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By Sabrina Almeida

First impressions count! We already knew that. But a recent University of Toronto study tells us exactly how much.

An article on the findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the U of T website suggests that people can tell if you are rich or poor simply by looking at your face. Uh oh!

According to researchers Nicholas Rule (Associate Professor) and Thora Bjornsdottir (a graduate student) of the Faculty of Arts & Science, a happy face is stereotypically associated with being wealthy and satisfied. Makes sense, though I’ve never looked it that way.

Rule believes that over time our faces mirror our experiences and these can be hard to mask even when expressionless. I guess this means that if I want to appear rich I’d better work on perfecting that happy and fulfilled look.

For the study, student volunteers were grouped according to family income. Using an annual median of about $75,000 as a benchmark, the participants were placed in either of two categories—those with total family incomes under $60,000 or above $100,000. They then posed for photos with faces devoid of any expression. A separate group of volunteers was asked to determine if those photographed were rich or poor based on their faces. Researchers say that the results exceeded the random chance of making correct judgements.

Like me, you are probably wondering how faces can reveal income. Rule explained that the 18 to 22-year-old students had accumulated enough life experiences to shape their faces.

That our visage offers many insights into our life and personality is certainly not news. We’ve all come across people whose happy faces we are drawn to and the angry ones we’d like to avoid. However, the idea that your face might create an impression about your financial and social standing puts a whole new meaning on the message appearance can send.

An article on reiterates the new study’s findings about how your face can also impact your job opportunities. It is also no secret that personal biases (or conditioning) play a huge role in our assessment of people (we do judge a book by its cover). But the U of T researchers took it step further suggesting that those with rich faces are likely to get hired. Whoever thought that happy and content face (not just an attractive one) could get your foot in the door.

And here’s a little bit of information that will make many even more uncomfortable. Not surprisingly your countenance also speaks volumes about your health. According to Benedict Jones at the University of Glasgow plump cheeks and skin tones offer more information than we realize. Having a healthy glow can work in your favour.

Another group of scientists suggests that the way we pose for photographs may go beyond just wanting to showcase our good side. A study led by Owen Churches at the University of South Australia revealed that more emotionally expressive people (like psychologists and art scholars) tend to display the left cheek while those that were scientific (such as engineers, mathematicians and chemists) offered their right cheek. These findings were consistent with previous studies.

This should give you something to think about before you click those selfies. Do you want to be perceived as artsy or scientific? Or just rich!!!

From the shape of your face, forehead, chin, ears, nose and mouth to the type of hair and eyebrows you have—facial features are often responsible for that first make or break impression. Most of these we can do little about. That and the fact that a majority of us base our assessments of people according to stereotypes and personal conditioning. (This is not to be confused with physiognomy, the science of face reading, which is quite difficult to master and most don’t have time for.)

If what the U of T researchers say holds true, the simplest way to create a more favourable impression, in this case a rich look, seems to be filling your life with positive experiences that will gratify you.

Perhaps we’ve got the formula to making a big impression wrong all along. We ought to find ways to be happy… rather than compete with family, friends, neighbours and everyone we meet for wealth and possessions… which results in a tired, impoverished look and has the opposite effect.

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