Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Last year, researchers discovered that the photographs of people who meditate regularly appear less negative than inexperienced meditators.
A team of researchers led by Simon Goldberg at the University of Wisconsin-Madison along with assistance from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, reported in a 2019 issue of Plos One, that the photos of regular, experienced meditators not only appear less neurotic in their pictures than non-meditators but also appear more conscientious and mindful to a group of casual observers.
Recall that "neurotic" is a term psychologists and psychiatrists use to describe a person who shows a consistent tendency toward anxiety, depression, and overall negative life experiences. That is definitely something that can show on the face.
To perform the study, they first took headshots of 16 long-term meditators and 83 "meditation-naive" volunteers. Next, they randomly assigned 27 of the non-meditators into an 8-week mindfulness course to test if short-term training could show on the face.
They then assigned 29 non-meditators into a health enhancement program to see if some wellness training would make a difference. Finally, the team assigned 27 non-meditators to a waitlist without any training at all.
At the end of the training, they took new headshots.
Both casual observers and experienced meditators rated the before and after training photographs based on the following traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism (negativity), comfortableness, and mindfulness. Researchers also threw in "attractiveness."
Goldberg and the team found that experienced meditators appeared less negative, more comfortable, and conscientious than the non-meditators, even after the non-meditators had some training. Their attractiveness and agreeableness scales, however, were not significantly different.
But isn't positivity attractive, too? I think so. Positivity, however, was not measured, only positive behaviors.
We can only conclude that if you have a good meditation routine, your photo could appear less neurotic and more comfortable.
Don't expect to meditate for a few minutes, snap a selfie for Instagram, and hope that makes a difference in your "like" value. In fact, an eight-week training session might not even affect observer perceptions.
More importantly, it is important to note that a person cannot predict the internal state of another person's psychological reality by observing a photograph. As the authors point out, a snapshot is a small slice of the total character when it comes to judging personality.
The study shows that there seems to be something special about the long-term practice in meditation. Your photo, and your face, could appear more relaxed and comfortable, which could have implications for wellness, leadership practice, spirituality, relationships, and even your selfies.
You can find more about this study here: Still, facial photographs of long-term meditators are perceived by naïve observers as less neurotic, conscientious, and more mindful than non-meditating controls.