Menu

Study: Facial Cues Indicate Sickness

Pale skin and hanging eyelids are tell-tale signs of apparent illness.

Jan 4, 2018
Diana Kwon

ISTOCK, PEOPLEIMAGESPeople can recognize sickness in others’ faces, according to a study published yesterday (December 3) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“We can detect subtle cues related to the skin, eyes, and mouth,” study co-author John Axelsson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden tells The Washington Post. “And we judge people as sick by those cues.”

To investigate whether facial features could indicate sickness, Axelsson and his colleagues took photos of 16 healthy, young, Caucasian volunteers three times—once following a shot of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a molecule found in bacterial membranes that elicits an immune response and causes visual symptoms of illness without actually making people sick, and on two occasions after a placebo injection. Then, they recruited two groups of around 60 participants to rate those photos after viewing them for a maximum of five seconds. One group was asked whether the photographed individuals looked sick or healthy and the other graded health on a scale of one (very poor) to seven (very good).

Raters were slightly better than chance at correctly identifying 13 of 16 volunteers as “sick.”  Pale skin and hanging eyelids were the most consistent cues associated with apparent illness.

“They are only semi-accurate,” Mark Schaller, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who wasn’t involved in the study, tells STAT News. However, he adds, “it’s a useful reminder of the fact that when we humans use superficial characteristics as sickness cues . . . those superficial features often lead us astray, with the consequence that we may often respond to healthy people as though they are sick.”

Rachel McMullan, a biologist at the Open University in the U.K. who was not involved in the study, tells The Guardian that the study’s results suggest that ill individuals could be spotted soon after infection. “Being able to quickly identify and avoid potentially sick, contagious individuals will certainly be an evolutionary advantage and this study is a good starting point for further research into the how we detect early signs of infection,” she adds. 

September 2018

The Muscle Issue

The dynamic tissue reveals its secrets

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Horizon Discovery introduces Myeloid DNA Reference Standard to support genetic testing of leukemia

Horizon Discovery introduces Myeloid DNA Reference Standard to support genetic testing of leukemia

Horizon Discovery Group plc, a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation technologies, today announced the launch of its Myeloid DNA Reference Standard. The first-to-market large cell-line derived myeloid cancer reference standard designed enables faster, more reliable and more cost-effective assay validation, to support the market in bringing routine testing into practice.

StemExpress LeukopakâNow Available in Frozen Format

StemExpress LeukopakâNow Available in Frozen Format

StemExpress, a Folsom, California based leading supplier of human biospecimens, announces the release of frozen Peripheral Blood Leukopaks. Leukopaks provide an enriched source of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with low granulocyte and red blood cells that can be used in a variety of downstream cell-based applications.

New Antifade Mounting Media from Vector Laboratories Enhances Immunofluorescence Applications

New Antifade Mounting Media from Vector Laboratories Enhances Immunofluorescence Applications

Vector Laboratories, a leader in the development and manufacture of labeling and detection reagents for biomedical research, introduces VECTASHIELD® Vibrance™ – antifade mounting media that delivers significant improvements to the immunofluorescence workflow.

Best Practices for Sample Preparation and Lipid Extraction from Various Samples

Best Practices for Sample Preparation and Lipid Extraction from Various Samples

Download this white paper from Bertin Technologies to learn how to extract and analyze lipid samples from various models!