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Why you could have ‘face-ism’ – an extreme tendency to judge people based on their facial features

Your dream job interview has finally arrived. Numerous applications and rejection letters later, you finally have a chance to land the position you wanted. Enter now. Perhaps you shake hands with the individual whose decision will affect your future and pour yourself a drink to calm your anxiety.

You don’t realize that none of this matters, though. Your interviewer concluded you would never obtain this job the moment they laid eyes on you since you appeared so untrustworthy and unskilled. Because, regrettably, they belong to a group of individuals who, according to recent research, are predisposed to conclude severe personality traits just by looking at someone’s face.

Seen below are two faces. Would you work for them? Who has a smarter appearance? Would you feel comfortable leaving either person in charge of your laptop in a cafe while you answer a call?

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You might have quickly judged the competence of each composite individual based on their facial shape and expression even though these faces aren’t real. We frequently engage in this. Even though the persons in the photographs don’t exist, we have projected characteristics onto them. It can be helpful to judge someone’s personality by making snap decisions about how much we should trust them, how dominant they are likely to be, or how smart they are.

Unfortunately, this can also result in stereotyping, such as the assumption that everyone with a certain physical trait is dishonest.

harsh conclusions

Recent research from Japanese scientists raises an even more concerning possibility: that some of us have the propensity to make snap judgments about the characteristics and personalities of others based only on facial appearance.

Atsunobu Suzuki and colleagues discovered what they refer to as “face-based trait inferences” in several online research involving more than 300 participants (FBTIs). Basically, after getting a quick glimpse of someone’s face, individuals made several personality assessments. Although everyone engages in FBTIs to some extent, they discovered that some individuals only engage in severe judgments (both positive and negative). Even after controlling for participant age, sex, and ethnicity, this maintained true.

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Imagine having the sense someone is incredibly unreliable the moment you see a certain type of face, perhaps one with hard eyes and masculine features. Or that someone with wider eyes and more feminine features is incompetent. This is undoubtedly troublesome, as Suzuki and colleagues note.

Recognize the issue

We already know that hiring decisions frequently involve unconscious prejudice. According to a 2018 survey, applicants for 50 different jobs submitted various versions of nearly identical CVs. The name on the CV was the sole difference between the two: Ravindra Thalwal on one and Adam Smith on the other. Compared to his more typically British-sounding twin, Ravindra received around half as many answers.

These initial judgments are expected but typically incorrect, according to Alexander Todorov, one of the foremost experts in first impression studies. We are also aware that first impressions are frequently difficult to change. Therefore, this might indicate that hiring errors regularly occur.

Unconscious bias has the drawback that, for the most part, you are unaware that you are engaging in it. One of the reasons some businesses want unconscious bias training is because of this (although some people still refuse to do it). Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to discrimination, unconscious bias training has been demonstrated to improve people’s attitudes even after brief interventions.

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For prejudices against other physical features like color, gender, and weight, you can create unconscious bias training. However, it appears that face-ism is a stereotype that transcends sex, gender, and physical appearance.

People could be made aware of their excessive FBTIs by taking a test akin to the Suzuki experiment as one possible remedy. According to research, becoming conscious of your prejudices might improve your perspective temporarily, but lasting behavioral change requires ongoing support from outside sources.

Perhaps merely bringing someone’s strong personality assessments based on facial features to their attention will be sufficient to bring the prejudice to light. We will undoubtedly need to make an effort; else, you risk being a future victim of face-ism.

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