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Can you accurately perceive qualities about a person through their physical appearance?

Can you accurately perceive qualities about a person through their physical appearance?
WRITTEN BY
11/30/20
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Fact Box

  • Studies done by a University of Toronto psychology professor found that people could accurately predict who would lead successful law firms by merely examining college yearbook photos. 
  • Various studies have revealed that tall people, blondes, those who exercise, and women who wear make-up all get paid more money than people who do not fall into those categories. 
  • A recent study done by skincare company, Univia, found that 86% of respondents “...believed physical appearance matters in the workplace.”
  • The practice of reading the features on the face to discern one’s character, also known as physiognomy, dates back to ancient Mesopotamia. 
  • A Psychology Today writer revealed that over 23% of her surveyed workshop participants admitted to misjudging someone based solely on their physical appearance multiple times per month.
  • Lookism is defined as “...prejudice or discrimination based on physical appearance and especially physical appearance believed to fall short of societal notions of beauty.”

Laurie (Yes)

You can most definitely perceive someone's character based on their physical appearance. Of course, it is undeniable that people should not be judged solely on the way they look. However, physical appearance is an accurate indicator of what's 'inside,' as well as what to expect from someone's personality, before a person even opens their mouth. This is because people use their unique personal style to represent who they are as individuals. People showcase their distinct inner personalities through such methods as hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, and clothing. 

Aside from someone's chosen fashion accessories, a person's smile, eyes, and body language are also crucial in perceiving and assessing character. The science of body language, called kinesics, has proven that small gestures done with the body can reveal what a person's true intentions are. Kinesics is used by law enforcement officers, as well as by healthcare workers, social workers, and many other job positions that require observation and nonverbal communication. A sub-category of kinesics investigates how individuals carry themselves as they walk, which gives further information about inner character. For example, in general, if a person stands tall and looks ahead as they walk, they are confident and direct, but if a person slouches and looks down, they are seen as being insecure or weak. 

Assessing people based on their physical appearance also has deep roots in history. The Chinese form of face reading, called mian xiang, has been in continuous use for over 2,600 years, giving insight 'into a person's history, present situation, and future development.'

There is much to be learned about someone just by looking at them. 


Caroline (No)

As the saying goes, 'you can't judge a book by its cover,' which is especially true when applied to people. You cannot, with absolute certainty, assess a person based solely on their appearance. Personality and inner character are very separate from outward appearance, as many abstract variables contribute to making a person who they are: life experience, moods, patterns of behavior, inclinations, etc. These things could never be extrapolated from mere appearance alone--no matter what parlor tricks are practiced or pseudoscience may claim to be true. 

Assessing people on their looks is not only superficial, but it also lacks nuance. For example, there are many reasons why a person may be overweight--from depression to physical illness to hormonal issues. Still, society has incorrectly taught us that it is merely due to laziness and greediness. The reasons why people are the way they are is certainly not so black-and-white. 

An obvious and extreme example of this can be seen in how racist western society treats various ethnicities differently based upon their appearance, through such practices as racial profiling by the police and assuming people of Eastern origin are terrorists

On a lesser scale, judging people based on their looks leaves many people underestimated in terms of intelligence and physical ability. Small women can be expertly-trained martial artists, and fashion models are capable of having successful academic careers. Not only is it unfair to pigeon-hole people into tiny boxes based on their bodies, but it is also wrong.

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