Does your face determine your success in life?

It’s been suspected for many years – those who are more attractive seem to get further ahead in life. They get the promotions, they get the boyfriends or girlfriends, they get the big movie role. This world is optimised for better looking people, if we’re honest.

And now this has been proven by science. Even small differences in twins’ appearance could send them on a completely different path. Because our faces are the first thing another human sees, it’s the basis for many things in our lives – people can tell our trustworthiness, happiness and temperament just from looking into our eyes.

“Although we like to think we make decisions in a rational way, we are often swayed by superficial cues,” says researcher Christopher Olivola from Carnegie Mellon University. “And appearances are a particularly superficial, yet very strong cue”.

Up until now, if you had a perceived unattractive or very unique face, it was simply unfortunate. But now scientists are realising that our faces can cause us to be prejudiced against, something us over 60s know too well when we are dismissed without being given a chance.

In the 90s, economist Daniel Hamermesh found that more attractive people earn 10 to 12 per cent more than their less attractive counterparts, however, a beautiful woman can be at a disadvantage in a job interview if it is perceived that she is less intelligent.

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Recent studies have shown how facial appearance enables your success. Unsurprisingly, the more dominant you look, the more likely you are to be hired as a CEO.

Participants in a study were given photos and most agreed on who looked more trustworthy, despite never having met the person pictured. Another study found that an innocent face could make the jury more lenient on you in a trial.

So what makes an honest, competent or dominant face? Obviously an smile or frown are indicators but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that subtle characteristics can signal a personality trait, from bone structure to your eyebrows.

Researcher Alexander Todorov found that it takes just 40 milliseconds to form a rapid impression of someone’s personality, which is about a tenth as long as a single blink of the eye.

“Nowadays, with online profiles, we can form impressions before we talk to someone, before we even meet them. It can change the way we interpret the subsequent information,” co-author of the study, Christopher Olivola says.

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Faces that display (A) competence, (B) dominance, (C) extroversion, (D) trustworthiness (Credit: Christopher Olivola, Friederike Funk, Alexander Todorov)


With the evidence from their study, authors Olivola and Todorov argue that psychologists should begin to investigate ways to combat this so-called face-ism. “If a decision is important, I would try to structure the information so that faces come at the end of the decision process,” says Todorov.


So we want to know today: Have you ever been judged unfairly because of the way you look? Do you think ‘face-ism’ is a real thing? How can it be combated?