Impressions of competence from faces predict important real-world outcomes, including electoral success and chief executive officer selection. Presumed competence is associated with social status. Here we show that subtle economic status cues in clothes affect perceived competence from faces. In nine studies, people rated the competence of faces presented in frontal headshots. Faces were shown with different upper-body clothing rated by independent judges as looking ‘richer’ or ‘poorer’, although not notably perceived as such when explicitly described. The same face when seen with ‘richer’ clothes was judged significantly more competent than with ‘poorer’ clothes. The effect persisted even when perceivers were exposed to the stimuli briefly (129 ms), warned that clothing cues are non-informative and instructed to ignore the clothes (in one study, with considerable incentives). These findings demonstrate the uncontrollable effect of economic status cues on person perception. They add yet another hurdle to the challenges faced by low-status individuals.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience