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Here's How You Can Tell If Someone Is Sick Just By Looking At Them

Here's How You Can Tell If Someone Is Sick Just By Looking At Them
From TIME - January 3, 2018

When you feel under the weather, it can be obvious to those around youespecially if you have symptoms like coughing or congestion, or if youre not acting like your normal self. But even if you try to hide how you really feel, your face may give away subtle clues that youre unwell, according to a new study. In a series of experiments published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, people were able to accurately distinguish between sick and healthy people, at a rate better than chance, simply by looking at their photographs.

To test whether facial cues alone can convey signs of illness, researchers gave 22 adults an injection of either a common bacteria or a salt-water placebo. Although the bacterial injections didnt make the volunteers truly ill, it did trick their immune systems and trigger an inflammatory response. Soon after the shot, those who received the bacteria began to feel sick.

About two hours after their injections, the people were asked to sit for a photograph with a neutral expression and wearing no makeup. On a separate occasion, everyone returned and received whichever injection they hadnt had the first time, and were photographed again.

Later, 62 additional volunteers were shown photographs from the first phase of the experiment. Half taken after the bacterial injections, and half taken after the placebo. The volunteers looked at each photo for 5 seconds and were asked to rate whether the person pictured looked sick or healthy.

After almost 3,000 ratings, the volunteers judged the people in the photos as being sick 41% of the time. They received an overall accuracy score of 0.62, on a scale where 0.5 represents complete randomness and 1.0 represents perfect identification.

These results demonstrate that untrained people can, above chance level, identify acutely sick individuals from merely observing a photo for a few seconds, the authors wrote in their paper. This supports the notion that humans have the ability to detect signs of illness in an early phase after exposure to infectious stimuli.

The researchers also showed the same photographs to a second group of 60 viewers, this time asking them to rate specific characteristics of the peoples skin, eyes and mouths. Pale lips were the most identified feature in subjects who had received the bacterial infections. Pale skin, a swollen face, droopy corners of the mouth, hanging eyelids and red eyes were also more likely in sick people versus healthy ones.

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