A Matter of Trust?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Psychologist Caroline Keating once had a team of volunteers "lose" hundreds of résumés in the United States and Kenya. The fictitious résumés featured the faces of black and white men and women, some of which had been altered to have larger eyes and lips -- and appear more babyish -- while other images were altered to make the faces seem more mature.

All the résumés came with a stamped envelope, which bore the address of a potential employer. In reality, the address belonged to one of the researchers conducting the study. Keating and her colleagues dropped the résumés at malls, sidewalks, bus stops and public telephone booths.

What they wanted to find out was whether people who picked up the résumés would take pity on the job applicant and mail the résumé -- and whether the "baby-facedness" of the applicants made a difference.

Especially when the photos on the résumés showed white men, researchers found that letters were far more likely to be mailed when the face on the résumé was babyish rather than mature. Nearly half of these babyish résumés were mailed, whereas a quarter of the résumés with mature faces were mailed.

-- Shankar Vedantam

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