It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
Actually, as it turns out, the way we look is more important than most people might like to believe. Physical traits can be used to make judgments about personality traits and can even predict certain future health conditions.
In fact, our brain is always making snap judgments about others to form first impressions. The amygdala is amazingly capable of picking up on and interpreting nuanced social cues, according to research that was reported in Psychology Today. This part of the brain accomplishes this by taking in information from each of the five senses. After this information is interpreted, the amygdala sends out directions about how we should proceed in social situations.
The amygdala doesn’t have to work alone, though. The posterior cingulate cortex brings a more subjective perspective to the process of forming first impressions. This area of the brain is believed to be responsible for pulling up memories that are emotionally significant. It is thought that the posterior cingulate cortex helps individuals form the motivations that influence how they interact with others. In a way, it’s like the posterior cingulate cortex processes information about a new person and asks, “What can you do for me?”
From the way you respond to annoyances to your long term risks for cancer, here’s what your body is trying to tell you (and others) about who you are.
1. Red in the Face
For a young person, a look in the mirror might be enough to predict what skin problems you will deal with later in life, according to Dr. Cynthia Bailey, president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology.
If a child or young teen tends to flush easily, this might be an indicator they will deal with rosacea when they get older. There are also specific concerns for redheads.
“Being a redhead or carrying the redhead gene predisposes to melanoma,” Bailey explains.
2. Hey there, good lookin’!
No matter how hard we try to keep an open mind, our brain is always making snap judgments. This is especially true when we meet new people. In fact, the human brain is capable of making assumptions about someone in a tenth of a second, according to research presented in Psychological Science. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found that we form first impressions almost immediately based on a person’s face.
What exactly is your brain looking for? As it turns out, certain physical traits are linked with certain personalities. Or that’s what your brain believes, anyway.
For instance, if you’ve ever suspected that attractive people have it easier, prepare to feel validated. When we meet people we view as attractive, we tend to make positive assumptions about who they are.
It’s called the halo effect, according to an article on Being Human, and it’s the tendency our brain has to assume that someone who looks good is good. Meaning, if you meet someone with a great smile and dazzling eyes, you are more likely to believe they are friendly, trustworthy, and kind, regardless of whether that is actually true.
3. Look me in the eyes.
A look in the eyes might also be a predictor of your risks for cancer, according to Dr. Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes, 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You.
“When it comes to uveal melanoma, a type of cancer that affects the eye, people with light-colored eyes do have an increased risk of developing this type of cancer due to the reduction in the protective pigment in the eye,” she explains.
When it comes to other types of melanoma, specifically on the skin, eye color isn’t so much a predictor, it just happens to be linked to other risk factors, according to Stagg. Darker eyes have been said to be linked to a lower risk of skin melanoma, but the truth is that darker skin comes with a lower risk, and darker-skinned individuals are more likely to have darker eyes.
So, if you’re brown eyed but fair skinned, you still need to be extra vigilant about watching for symptoms of the disease.
4. Hearing Kindness
When it comes to forming first impressions, the way a voice sounds is one characteristic that heavily influences how we form our first impressions of another person. And we can form that impression with a single word, according to a study conducted by the Voice Neurocognition Laboratory.
Participants were asked to listen to different recordings of people saying hello, then rate them based on traits like warmth, aggression, or trustworthiness. What researchers found was that people share common beliefs about what makes a voice sound trustworthy. For male voices, it is a higher pitch, and for female voices, it is the way their voices drop at the end of word.
5. Aggression Connection
One connection our brain makes between a person’s appearance and how they might behave is how aggressive they are. Based on how a person’s face looks, we make quick judgments about whether we have cause to be nervous in their presence.
This response is related to the width of their face, according to a study that appeared in Evolution and Human Behavior. Apparently, a wider face is associated with higher testosterone levels. Specifically, the brain makes a quick judgment based on a person’s face height:width ratio. Since high testosterone levels are associated with aggression, it is really a pretty smart assumption our brain makes with limited information.
6. Does size matter?
Although breast cancer research has long been looking for a link between breast size and an increased risk of breast cancer, Stagg says we still need more information to come to a definitive answer.
“Further research is needed to clarify the results of preliminary association-type study … breast cancer is extremely complex, involving many factors and genes. It is difficult at this point to say that having larger breasts confers an increased risk,” she explains.
While we’re talking about size, Stagg also pointed out that taller men should know their risks of aggressive prostate cancer are higher and that they’re more likely to die from the disease. Additionally, obesity has long been connected with increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or stroke.
7. Leadership Qualities
When we meet a new person, our brain automatically makes judgments about whether that person would be a good leader. Interestingly enough, one characteristic we look for in a leader is height. Taller individuals are automatically assumed to be better at being in charge.
Amazingly, our brain is capable of making this judgment even when all they see of a person is their face. Certain facial characteristics, such as the length of the face, are believed to be associated with height, according to some studies. Researchers believe that once the brain has this information, it decides if a person is tall or not and whether they have leadership potential.
8. Reading Your Mental Health
Interestingly, people on the street aren’t the only ones judging your personality based on your appearance. In mental health, these type of judgments are a common practice as a means of making a diagnosis, according to Amina Shea Tinsley, licensed psychotherapist at the American Center for Holistic Wellness. But it’s not just your physical traits they are watching, it’s how you carry yourself.
For instance, when she visits with a new client, she says she cares more about body language than the color of their eyes.
“Mental health professionals observe their patient’s physical appearance at the beginning of each therapy session because it is a key component of the mental status exam, which includes your appearance, mood, and affect, among other things.”
Do you still control your future?
It might be discouraging to read that the way you look seems to matter so much. It’s no fun to learn that a specific trait you were born into is linked to increased risk for disease or that people are using your appearance to make judgments about who you are, but you should know that this isn’t a prediction of your future.
For instance, when it comes to personality, you can always work to make a positive first impression or change how people feel about you, according to Tinsley. It starts with understanding how you are perceived by other people.
“I call it mindful posture or being self-aware and conscious of how you are presenting yourself publicly. Slouching is culturally associated with being shy, timid, or fearful. I recommend practicing positive body language in the mirror before each social interaction. This may include a smile, standing tall, or mirroring to appear engaged and confident,” she suggests.
When it comes to physical traits and how they may influence the future of your health, genetics certainly matter, but Stagg offered some encouraging insights.
“Most diseases are the result of a combination of many genetic and lifestyle factors. We typically say that about 70 percent of health outcomes are dictated by your lifestyle choices, while only about 30 percent is genetics,” she says.
“For example, people who have a specific genetic variant that increases their risk of developing diabetes can completely negate the effect of that gene by eating a Mediterranean diet,” explains Stagg.
What this means is that making the right choices about how you live your life matters. If you are able to eat a nutritious diet, manage your stress, and get plenty of exercise and adequate sleep, you’ll provide your body with a healthy environment that will promote your overall wellness. And if you happen to know you’re at risk for a specific disorder or disease, talk with your doctor about actions you can take to mitigate that risk.