Sunday, November 8, 2009

Your face gives you away

According to a recent study, people can accurately gage the personalities of others simply by looking at photographs of them. As WebMD reports:

"Two pictures were taken of the subjects. In one, they posed in a way that researchers told them -- staring at the camera, not smiling, feet should-width apart, hands at sides. In the other, they were photographed in natural, spontaneous poses. Their actual personalities were evaluated based on a questionnaire they filled out themselves, as well as questionnaires completed by people who knew them well."

As it turns out, participants were accurate when they looked at both pictures, though more so in the spontaneous picture. While we are supposed to be surprised by this study, it really shoudn't be surprising. This study is just one of many recent studies showing that the face gives away much about the person behind it.

Does the fact that people can tell so much about a person by their face mean that instead of training sessions on nondiscrimination, training should be held on how to discriminate -not based on race/sex- but on facial characteristics? The implications for anyone hiring or putting together a team are obvious, as they are for anyone interested in profiling customers. A company could use the information garnered from these studies to train their people in how to read faces, and or select employees who are particularly good at the task to perform various functions.

The idea of judging people based on their faces cuts against prevailing notions of equality and nondiscrimination. We are taught that anyone could be anything and that we should not judge them based on a characteristic that is beyond their control. Because making decisions on something largely beyond a person's control cut against that prevailing notion, anyone actively doing so could expect legal challenges. Some states have passed laws that protect against discriminating on the basis of fatness, and others are contemplating nondiscrimination laws for physical attractiveness, and height. Currently many states protect homosexuals from being discriminated against. To the extent that facial profiling falls under lines of masculinity and race, it could certainly be underfire already.