A new study claims we can tell rich from poor in split seconds

Interesting study and provides further insights to our implicit biases:

Rich or poor? The answer may be written on your face.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto has found that we are able to judge a person’s income with surprising accuracy just from a glimpse of the face.

Researchers conducted the study by asking participants to categorize photos of people as rich or poor. In one stage of the study, photos were collected from dating sites and individual income was self-reported as either more than $150,ooo or less than $35,000. A second set of tests used photos captured in a lab, featuring 156 undergraduate students with neutral, expressionless faces whose median household incomes were either below $60,000 or above $100,000. Only Caucasian and East Asian students featured in the photos, in an effort to account for racial bias or stereotyping by participants, according to Nicholas Rule, associate professor of psychology at U of T who worked on the study.

Those asked to categorize the photo subjects by income level were accurate 68 per cent of the time in the first study and 52 per cent of the time in the second, more controlled set, even when given only split seconds to make their choice. Statistically, peoples’ guesses in both studies were too high to be pure chance, according to Rule, who says he was astonished by their accuracy, given that subjects of the second study were purposefully devoid of expression. “Those [differences] are just so extremely subtle in someone’s appearance and the fact that people were picking up on this and extracting that information from the face so readily really did surprise me,” said Rule.

The findings of the study, which Rule co-authored with Thora Bjornsdottir, are both fascinating and troubling. They have implications in hiring, law enforcement and our day-to-day interactions with colleagues and peers. If you grow up poor, to some degree, you’ll always look it—and face the subconscious bias of those who can tell. “You look a certain way, people treat you a certain way—people treat you like you’re poor; it’s a cycle you can’t get out of,” says Rule. By the same token, those who are deemed richer—because they seem happier or more attractive—may be given opportunities and treated better as a result of their perceived wealth and the positive traits we seem to associate with it.

It’s not something to take lightly—these are judgements we make on a daily basis, scrolling through newsfeeds and ‘liking’ our friends’ pictures. Gordon Patzer, author of The Physical Attractiveness Phenomena, who studies the power of beauty on perception, says that the prevalence of social media—like Facebook or Tinder—will only continue to make faces a key way we evaluate our peers (and strangers). “We rely so much on photos on social media…I would have to speculate that [we’re putting] more and more importance on a person’s image all the time.”

At the heart of peoples’ correct guesses in the study is the stereotype that the rich are happier due to their less arduous childhoods and lifestyles, and vice versa for the poor. The study found that faces people associated more strongly with positive traits such as attractiveness and empathy were more often labelled wealthy. To be sure, in all the photos taken in the controlled lab setting the subjects appear quite glum—but the wealthy just looked a little less so.

The giveaway, it seems, is the mouth. Part of the study involved asking people to guess incomes while only seeing parts of a subject’s face—the mouths rather than eyes were the strongest, most accurate indicators of wealth. All it took to skew the accuracy of participants in their exercise was to categorize images of smiling people—a grin erased any cues people could use to make their choice.

“The face changes over time. Your mom might’ve always said ‘if you make a funny face, it’ll stay that way.’ There’s a kernel of truth in that, it turns out,” says Rule. The face has 43 muscles and they’re no different than the other muscles in your body—the more you work them out, the larger they’ll get. The smiling, happy childhoods of the rich had left imprints on their faces.

It’s an awkward truth that we may shy away from wanting to acknowledge for fear of perpetuating stereotypes. “In my opinion it’s far more dangerous for us to pretend the stereotypes don’t exist,” says Rule.

By burying our heads in the sand we might just never solve the problems our first impressions lead us to. For instance, in the last part of the study, Rule assembled a group of participants and asked them to rate how likely the subjects were to be hired as accountants (a profession that was chosen since it isn’t associated with wealth or poverty). The rich won out here, too.

But where did this specific knack for visually categorizing people by their income status come from? There’s an evolutionary argument to be made, speculates Rule, that as humans we would want to know what resources our peers have access to so we could decide whether we’d want to continue associating with them. Indeed, there are studies that suggest that our ability to convey emotions via facial expression—and to interpret them—evolved throughout time and became important skills in predicting behaviour.

While disconcerting, the results are a step towards progress, says Rule. If perceived wealth and our feelings towards class can affect hiring decisions, then perhaps hiring managers need to be trained accordingly. Being aware of their biases means they can make an effort to change the way they perceive people. Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step towards recovery, after all. On the other hand, if people are aware that they’re being judged subconsciously, as Patzer suggests, they can make changes to how they carry themselves to combat their resting-poor-face.

“If we want equality as a society, we need to face some of the facts about things we don’t like, which is that we do judge people based on their appearance and we do use stereotypes to do that,” says Rule.

So, next time you have a job interview, you might want to practice donning the slightest of smiles—it may level the playing field, if only just a little bit.

Source: A new study claims we can tell rich from poor in split seconds

Implicit bias against black people linked to police use of lethal force, study suggests

Good summary of some of the latest research on implicit bias and the difficulties in reducing its impact:

New research suggests the way our brains make associations between black people and the physical threat we think they pose is the greatest predictor of police using lethal force against a black person. These biases are held not just by the officers in question, but by the wider communities in which black people are killed by police.

This correlation is reported by a team of researchers led by Eric Hehman, an assistant professor of psychology at Ryerson University, in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Dr. Hehman’s study adds to a growing body of research on implicit bias and how it can influence how police interact with black people.

For their study, Dr. Hehman’s team looked at the results of 2,156,053 U.S. residents who completed Harvard University’s famous Implicit Association Test, an online tool that measures the strength of the associations one makes between white people, black people and good and bad traits. They geolocated the results and analyzed them alongside data on people killed by police in the U.S. during a nine-month period in 2015.

They found that in places where implicit bias against black people and an association between black people and weapons were stronger, there was a disproportionate use of lethal force by police against black residents. Canadian data on fatal police shootings of black people was not available to include in the study, but Dr. Hehman said the principles they were researching could extend to Canada, too.

“We’re measuring the lady down the street who lives on the corner, the person who’s selling you some oranges. Just regular, average community members,” Dr. Hehman said. “But we’re still predicting these extremely potent and important consequences that are by police.”

It may be even more difficult to defeat the implicit biases police officers hold because of the nature of their work. In training simulations where individuals must decide whether or not to shoot armed or unarmed individuals, police who deal with non-white individuals in routinely dangerous situations – such as those on a drug force or SWAT team – have been found to be more likely than beat cops or civilians to shoot unarmed black men.

“In a moment where they’re under extreme stress and duress, they’re not really able to think consciously about what they’re saying, what they’re doing and so on. They’re going to revert back to their instincts,” says Nicholas Rule, a Canada Research Chair in social perception and cognition.

In June, Dr. Rule, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, testified at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Andrew Loku. He shared results of one study he did, in which participants consistently guessed that black men, just based on photos of their faces, were larger and stronger than white men of similar build. With those misperceptions came the assumption that more force would be needed to subdue them compared with white men.

In the verdict following the Loku inquest, the jury made several recommendations, one of which Dr. Rule had pushed for: to require all new officers and those requalifying to take the Implicit Association Test – the same one that was used in Dr. Hehman’s research. The jury also suggested officers receive implicit-bias and anti-blackness training.

But there’s little evidence to support implicit-bias training across various sectors. Several analyses found that after 24 hours, the bias-reducing effects of the training had vaporized, usually as a result of the individual returning to their regular life and exposure to the very stereotypes they were trying to stamp out.

Based on decades of research, many social scientists believe the best treatment for bias is what was first described by American psychologist Gordon Allport in 1954 as the “intergroup contact hypothesis” – a theory that the more contact members of a majority group having with a minority group, the less prejudice they feel towards them. But Dr. Allport emphasized that not just any contact would work: the quality was important and required equal status between all individuals.

For this reason, Emilie Nicolas is skeptical of whether anything can change implicit bias in police because of the immutable power dynamics between officers and the people they serve. Ms. Nicolas is the president of the NGO Québec Inclusif, which has been pressing the Quebec government to launch a commission into systemic racism in the province. She says there is a hierarchy between black people and white people that is naturalized through policing. Even if a beat cop spends all his time in a black neighbourhood and hosts community events, the nature of his interactions with residents isn’t the sort of quality contact Dr. Allport’s theory requires.

“Community barbecues are based on the assumption that if you don’t do them, these people may be impolite or whatever,” Ms. Nicolas says. “You don’t have these community barbecues in [wealthy white neighbourhoods] so the very fact that they have them speaks of prejudice that exists.”

Source: Implicit bias against black people linked to police use of lethal force, study suggests – The Globe and Mail