DANIEL RE, 28, PSYCHOLOGY
What does how your face is shaped have to do with how your life turns out? Quite a bit, actually. It’s a question that Daniel Re is working to answer as a psychology researcher at the University of Toronto’s Social Perception & Cognition Lab.
“Mostly, I study face appearance and leadership,” Re says. “I also study how healthy choices—eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight—make someone look more attractive.”
Re has demonstrated, for example, that facial appearance predicts leadership hierarchies in mafia families. He’s also looking into whether facial features relate to actual leadership quality or whether they bias us to choose leaders mainly because they look like leaders. “These studies,” he says, “will shed light on the mechanisms behind discrimination in leadership choices in real-world politics and businesses at all levels.”
In another line of research, Re proved that when normal people eat three extra servings of fruits and vegetables a day, their faces get noticeably healthier and more attractive within six weeks—the before-and-after photos are striking.
"I’m really starting to try to make my findings useful for people to improve their own life in some small way. Trying to make my research more applicable to society has made my work more generalizable. It’s also increased my own sense of purpose, which is nice."
More recently, he determined the exact amount of weight that someone needs to gain or lose to look fatter or thinner—about 10 pounds—but also showed that it takes twice that amount to be judged as being more or less attractive.
“Dan is really on the cutting edge of his field,” says Nicholas Rule, his advisor and collaborator on a forthcoming study that looks at the relationship between facial appearance and life expectancy. (“I’ve had some fantastic supervisors over the years,” Re says, “above and beyond what any student has the right to hope for.”)
Re grew up in a small town called Midland Bay Woods in Ontario, Canada. His high school didn’t offer any psychology classes but when he was a freshman at McMaster University, a teaching assistant made Re’s first exposure to the subject fun and accessible.
By the time he was 27, he’d gotten his Ph.D. from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. Currently he’s funded by a prestigious fellowship from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and is working to move ahead with a tenure-track academic spot.
Though he enjoys his work, Re says, “I’m really starting to try to make my findings useful for people to improve their own life in some small way. I wasn’t too concerned about this in my grad school days, but trying to make my research more applicable to society has made my work more generalizable. It’s also increased my own sense of purpose, which is nice.”
By shedding light on how physical appearance affects life outcomes, Re hopes to make people aware of biases in their social interactions. He also wants to motivate people toward better lifestyles by proving that being healthy will make them more attractive. “It’s perhaps a shallow incentive,” he says, “but one that has proven effective in previous research.”
In his off time, Re is involved in a new Web series called Science Everywhere!, which aims to teach scientific concepts in entertaining ways. He’s also a member of a stand-up comedy troupe of scientists. “They're quite funny,” Rule says, “and I'm a tough audience.”
When asked what his life philosophy is, Re gives a sufficiently psychological answer: “Try to enjoy life. I wish I could put it more poetically than that. What I mean is to actually try, to put effort into enjoying your life. If you can make a sustained effort to enjoy your regular everyday life, to take some happiness and excitement from it, and are at all successful in doing so, it will likely improve your life in so many ways.”
So what does he see when he looks at his own face? “I guess I see someone with features advantageous to leadership roles,” he says, “but also someone who could stand to eat healthier and lose some weight. More philosophically, I see someone doing his best to grow into a decent adult who contributes something to society.”
We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.
A version of this year’s list is also available to subscribers as a feature in our May/June print issue. For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).