The curious idea of physiognomy and a question for Kiva

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The Economist discusses new research that revives the curious idea of physiognomy - the notion that people's characters are revealed in their faces. In short, researchers found that the perceived trustworthiness of someone's face correlated with his or her credit history. The Economist (and the researchers) seem to make the classic mistake of assuming correlation is causation. From the original paper:

Our results suggest that people’s appearance conveys important information about their willingness to meet their obligations.

What if the problem is not that people with untrustworthy faces are less willing to pay back their debts, but rather that since they suffer from low trust, they are less able to pay back their loans (even though they are as willing to pay as the next person?) If a person is perceived as untrustworthy, he'll probably have more trouble getting a job or building up social networks that could help support him in difficult times. If this is true, the cause would be people's (collectively irrational but individually rational) perceptions, and the consequence would be default.

All of this leads me to a question about Kiva and peer-to-peer lending in general: Is it right to include pictures of loan applicants on these websites?     


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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