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Let’s Face It: Effects of Social Status in Facial Processing

November 25th, 2013 4 comments

Every day, we constantly recognize and process countless faces; faces of our friends, classmates, strangers, professors, etc. Of the innumerable number of faces we see a day, what dictates what makes some faces more memorable than others? New research suggests that our personal motives, and goals at a given time, have a profound effect on face perception and memory. In the article The Allure of Status: High-Status Targets Are Privileged in Face Processing and Memory, the authors examine the effects of social status on facial recognition and perception.

Evidence suggests that our particular motives influence how we perceive faces: for example, men at a bar are more likely to notice attractive women at first in order to fulfill their goals associated with finding a mate. People also tend to selectively align themselves with who they perceive to be powerful and dominant individuals; this can explain why many women might be drawn more to a guy who is dressed well, or who is driving a nice car, since those are “status” symbols, representing the opportunity of a better life. The goal of the experiment was to see if higher-status faces could be recognized more frequently than lower-status faces, and how social status influences holistic processing (how we view faces as a whole rather than by individual features) and feature integration (how we create a unified representation by combining features).

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