Study Sheds Light on the ‘Mormon Glow’

Faces of profiles

Studies show that there is a connection between looks and personality and that the appearance of a person can predict behavior — to an extent.

Psychology Today published a piece on the subject using Brooke White as an example. White was a contestant on American Idol in 2008 and was almost immediately pegged as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During her audition, she said she didn’t drink and that she had never seen an R-rated movie. (Which prompted Simon Cowell to boast that he could “bring her over to the dark side”) While she never said anything else specific about her religion, some bloggers thought she had the, “Mormon Glow.” She later confirmed the rumor in an interview with The Arizona Republic saying, “I didn’t know I was setting off the Mormon radar.”

Two psychologists set out to test the validity of the Mormon glow, and such things as “Mordar,” the ability to single out Mormons in a crowd. Nalini Ambady from Tuft University and Nicholas Rule, at the University of Toronto, experimented by taking head shots of Mormons and non-Mormons and asked their undergraduate volunteers if they could spot who was a Mormon.

In just a glance, volunteers were accurately able to identify a Mormon 60 percent of the time. (Volunteers who happened to be Mormons were only slightly better) The study concluded that, “‘Mordar’ isn’t foolproof, but it’s statistically significant—about as accurate as the ability to tell if a face looks envious or anxious.”

Psychology Today pointed out that Mormons do not drink alcohol or coffee, don’t smoke and can rely on a community to support them, which relieves stress. With a typically more healthy lifestyle, Mormons live 10 years longer than the average American. The “glow” that people see and associate with religious purity might just be the glow of healthy skin.

“Thin-slicing,” the term Ambady uses to describe a persons ability to infer something about a person’s personality, character, or other traits after a very brief exposure, relies on a network of various parts of the brain to filter information we desire. Human beings have a knack for identifying who is sick, attractive, friendly, even those who are trustworthy or short-tempered.

The study seems to confirm a 2006 talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton, then the Second Counselor of the Young Women’s Organization, during the April General Conference. In her talk titled, “It Shows in Your Face” she shared a poem that read,

You don’t have to tell how you live each day;
You don’t have to tell if you work or play;
A tried and true barometer stands in its place—
You don’t have to tell, it will show in your face. …
If you live close to God and His infinite grace—
You won’t have to tell, it will show in your face.

Members of the Church talk a lot about countenance associated with righteous (or wicked) behavior. What do you think?

You can read about the rest of the study and how what we perceive in others affects how we treat them at Psychology Today.

Adam was born and raised in Southern California then went to high school in Arizona. He is currently pursuing a degree in English at BYU-Hawaii.