Contextual Biases in
Social Face Perception



People make intuitive judgments of other people’s traits (e.g., intelligence, kindness) from faces. Such intuitive judgments are susceptible to the context of the face, revealing biases people have about other individuals (e.g., “people wearing clothes appearing expensive are competent”).
By asking participnats to rate faces paired with upper-body clothes suggesting that the individual is either richer or poorer on competence,  we found that subtle economic status cues from clothes affect perceived competence from faces (Oh, Shafir, & Todorov, Nat Hum Beh 2019). The effect persisted even when perceivers are warned that such cues are non-informative or instructed and incentivized to ignore them. This bias puts low-income individuals at a disadvantage. 

People rated faces paired with “richer”-appearing clothes as more competent than the same faces paired with “poorer”-appearing clothes.
a: Human subjects were given various measures that discouraged them to rely on the clothes while judging competence of other individuals. x = the mean  competence rating of a face with it is paird with “poorer” clothes; y = the mean competence rating of a face with it is paird with “richer” clothes; each dot = each face.
b: Subjects were promised 100 USD to accurately judge how competent each face looked (that is, completely ignore the effect of the clothes). Strikingly, this did not change the biases induced by economic status cues in the clothes. x = each face; y = mean comeptence rating; each color = economic status of  clothes paired with the face.
References

Oh D, Shafir E, Todorov A (2019) Economic status cues from clothes affect perceived competence from faces. Nature Human Behaviour