Your facial expressions could allow people to determine how healthy your bank balance is upon the first meeting.

A study by social psychologists at the University of Toronto explored perceptions based on facial cues. Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it examined how observers might form impressions about an individual’s socioeconomic status, highlighting the complex interplay between appearance and societal perceptions.

‘It indicates that something as subtle as the signals in your face about your social class can actually then perpetuate it,’ said PhD candidate Thora Bjornsdottir. “Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have.”

To conduct the study, researchers asked the student volunteers to pose for photos with a neutral expression. These portraits were sorted into groups based on their total family income with the average being $A97,000. Students with a family income of less the $78,000 were classed as poor and those with families earning more than $131,000 were placed in the rich group.

Another group of student volunteers were told to use their gut instinct to analyse the portraits and decide who was rich or poor. With 53 percent accuracy, the volunteers could determine which students were from a poor family and those who belonged in the wealthy set. The researchers believe this percentage exceeds random chance.

“What we’re seeing is students who are just 18-22 years old have already accumulated enough life experience that it has visibly changed and shaped their face to the point you can tell what their socio-economic standing or social class is,” said Associate Professor Nicholas Rule.

The ability to tell the social class of an individual only applies when they’re showing a neutral expression. Researchers suggest expressing emotions such as smiling, masks life-long habits of an expression that’s become imprinted on a person’s face. This has occurred even by the time they’ve reached their late teens. Recurrent happiness for example, is commonly associated with people who are wealthy and satisfied with their life.

“Over time, your face comes to permanently reflect and reveal your experiences,” said Rule. “Even when we think we’re not expressing something, relics of those emotions are still there.”

Professor Rule states we have neurons in the brain that occurs regardless of the individual’s’ gender or race. “The face is the first thing you notice when you look at somebody”, he said. “We see faces in clouds, we see faces in toast.”

“We are sort of hardwired to look for face-like stimuli. And this is something people pick up very quickly. And they are consistent, which is what makes it statistically significant.”

According to Bjornsdottir, people can’t explain why they’re making the judgements of their social-economic position. ‘People are not really aware of what cues they are using when they make these judgements,’ said Bjornsdottir.

‘If you ask them why, they don’t know. They are not aware of how they are doing this.’

‘People talk about the cycle of poverty, and this is potentially one contributor to that,’ Rule said.

To understand limitations and whether facial clues are more apparent in other groups of people, Rue said the next step in their research may be to study older individuals.

To date, the research has only used student volunteers. We think it also might be interesting to test individual’s ability to analyse the faces of people who’ve had Wrinkle Reduction Treatments, Volume Enhancement Treatments or Platelet Rich Plasma treatments to improve their complexion. Would someone with reduced lines and pigmentation be perceived as being wealthy over an individual with aged skin?