Snap judgements can tell something about a person–but can they identify religiosity? Mormon glow? This research delves into the question using pre-rated facial research and is surprising.
“Thin-slicing” is the term that Ambady and her colleague, Richard Rosenthal, coined in 1992 to describe the ability to infer something about a person’s personality, character, or other traits after a very brief exposure. Thin-slicing relies on a brain network that includes the fusiform gyrus, which perceives faces, and the amygdala, which filters that information for anything that might be useful or threatening to survival.
To determine what exactly triggers Mordar, Ambady and Rule cropped photos beyond recognition. Some faces had only eyes or hair. Could judges identify Mormons from these features alone? Fail. Others had only noses or mouths. Nothing. Other faces had no features or even an outer shape. Just a patch of flesh, basically. Success.
“What the judges were primarily picking up,” Rule explains, “are cues of health in the skin.” The tone and texture of facial skin reflects immune function. “We have a system set up to assess others’ health for mate selection and disease avoidance,” Rule says. “This can be co-opted for social purposes as well —such as detecting religiosity.”
Mormons don’t drink or smoke. They enjoy community support, which relieves stress. They live 10 years longer than the average American. Holy Spirit aside, their skin may glow because it’s healthier. While the judges likely knew that Mormons are clean-living, they weren’t consciously aware when categorizing faces that they were associating religious purity with good skin. It was a gut feeling.