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Social class perception is driven by stereotype-related facial features.

Social class is a powerful hierarchy that determines many privileges and disadvantages. People form impressions of others' social class (like other important social attributes) from facial appearance, and these impressions correlate with stereotype judgments. However, what drives these related subjective judgments remains unknown. That is, what makes someone look like they are of higher or lower social class standing (e.g., rich or poor), and how does this relate to harmful or advantageous stereotypes? We addressed these questions using a perception-based data-driven method to model the specific three-dimensional facial features that drive social class judgments and compared them to those of stereotype-related judgments (competence, warmth, dominance, and trustworthiness), based on White Western culture participants and face stimuli. Using a complementary data-reduction analysis and machine learning approach, we show that social class judgments are driven by a unique constellation of facial features that reflect multiple embedded stereotypes: poor-looking (vs. rich-looking) faces are wider, shorter, and flatter with downturned mouths and darker, cooler complexions, mirroring features of incompetent, cold, and untrustworthy-looking (vs. competent, warm, and trustworthy-looking) faces. Our results reveal the specific facial features that underlie the connection between impressions of social class and stereotype-related social traits, with implications for central social perception theories, including understanding the causal links between stereotype knowledge and social class judgments. We anticipate that our results will inform future interventions designed to interrupt biased perception and social inequalities. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved).

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