By Erica Zaiser
I came across this cartoon recently from Funnymos.com:
Obviously it is meant to be humorous but it also made me wonder: Does having a trait like glasses change people’s initial impressions of you? And has there been any research on this topic? Turns out, there has.
According to research by Hellstrom and Tekle (1994), people infer not only occupations based on physical traits but also personal characteristics like intelligence and trustworthiness. The researchers conducted studies in which participants rated the personality characteristics and speculated about the occupation of several male faces with either glasses, hair, or a beard. The researchers found that the combination of having glasses, a beard, and no hair was associated most highly with intellectual professions. The opposite in each category led to the strongest belief that the face belonged to someone in a trade profession or a factory worker.
Another set of studies by Terry and Krantz (1993) further suggest that both men and women with glasses are rated as more competent and also have less social forcefulness. However, in their studies they found that beards were related to less competence. A key difference in this study was that the researchers looked at each difference separately whereas the first study looked at the combination of factors together. So perhaps a beard alone can diminish perceptions of competence but not when paired with glasses or bald hair in which case a beard has a positive effect on competence ratings.
Of course, these studies only varied a few physical traits and didn’t take into account all the other subtle influences that help form first impressions. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder, would people respect my research more if I wore glasses?