A plumber, a hairdresser and a doctor walk into a bar. When the server returns, in addition to handing over their drinks, he issues each an identical box of 100 facial photos and a challenge: Sort the box’s contents into two piles–smokers and non-smokers–and whomever achieves the highest degree of accuracy will drink free for the rest of the night.
Assuming each person is representative of their occupation, who is most likely to win? Who is most likely to go home perfectly sober?
Does this sound like a joke to you, Zesties? In fact, it’s connected to a medical study I read years ago, and to the theme of today’s post, which is that of games connected to people’s occupations.*
Back to the study for a moment and the results. If you played along, did you place the participants in this order of ascending accuracy?
plumber → hairdresser→physician
Then congratulations. Both your intuition and commonsense won out. After all, plumbers spend most of their time dealing with pipes, glue and architectural drawings. It’s not surprising they wouldn’t fare as well as those who work all the time with people. And while doctors are paid to directly ask about their patients’ lifestyles and should have a high degree of predictive accuracy, stylists weren’t far behind. They benefited from years of subconsciously pairing a client’s physical appearance with smoking-related cues: nicotine stains, clothing odors, raspy voices, the glimpse of a lighter in a handbag, and so on.
At this point in the blog post, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Why is Jan prattling on about an ancient study?” Well, my recent health scare lit a fire lit under my tush, meaning that I’ve been making long-overdue changes. I’ve been cooking and eating more whole-foods, plant-based dishes. I’ve joined a gym. (Am actually attending, too, so that’s helpful. If you haven’t tried Zumba, may I recommend it? It’s a good workout and addictive.)
As is the case whenever I make substantial alternations to my life, I’ve become obsessed, and one symptom is that I’ve resurrected a number of games from my days as a family doc.
For example, there’s the game of Identify the High Risk Smoker By Appearance Alone. (The reason I remembered the above study, and a game I was pretty good at when I was in practice.)
Then there’s the Shopping Cart Game in which I’ll look at the contents of a grocery cart and try to predict the appearance of the person or persons pushing it, or vice versa. The idea isn’t to stand in judgment but simply to reinforce the correlations between food and health, then make the best choices I can for myself. (It would be hard for me to be critical of others because of the mote in my eye. By virtue of where I live and my education, I’m an extraordinarily privileged person, yet I struggle to do the right things!)
In addition, it’s an intellectual puzzle to try and determine the person’s gender, age and ethnicity from the contents of their cart. (Did I mention I enjoy puzzles?)
Lastly, there’s the Pick the Runner Out of the Crowd guessing game, which is probably self-explanatory. I’m pretty good at this one, particularly if looking at Caucasian males. There’s something about the angle of the jaw and skin tone which gives it away. You might be able to see what I mean in these two photos:
Does serendipity play any role in your life? I was struggling for a way to describe the appearance of chronic exercisers when I happened to pick up a book and came across this passage.
I could tell right off that the Alternative school is supposed to be really unauthoritarian and everything. The teachers seemed nice but a bit too social-workerish. Take Mr. Richards, for example. He’s one of those fleece-wearing outdoorsy people who look so healthy that they don’t even look real. He looks like he should have something more adventurous to do with his life than teach misfits, like maybe he should be heli-skiing or hang gliding in the Andes. Maybe he does that stuff on weekends with some freckled, braided bombshell.
That’s from Susan Juby’s Alice, I Think, a book I’d only recommend if you’re a human who enjoys laughter and helpless giggling. It’s about a misfit teenager who began her school career convinced that she was a Hobbit, and who never quite got over the stigma she earned during that time.
Related Odds And Ends, Which Might Interest You
- A rapid, safe method to improve your appearance in a matter of 6-8 weeks.
- A slide show which shows how smoking affects looks, including photos of identical twins.
- As a complete side note, I’d really love to see a study about appearance and “vaping” now that many people are turning to e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarettes. Would their skin color and elasticity be as profoundly affected? I wonder.
- *Sadly, I couldn’t locate the study to reference it, but I remember its conclusions: There’s an entire population of smokers who evade the medical system until they are in crisis, making it too late to reach them for prevention. The authors of this study suggested using hair stylists in a kindler, gentler outreach program. Despite the intriguing idea, I don’t think it went anywhere.