Research suggests “Mormon” factor


Is “Mormon-ness” something you can see?


“Saint Morrissey.” Art credit: Ivyascending

There is a pervasive belief in Mormon culture that Mormon-ness, often described as a “glow,” is actually an observable characteristic. Though often taken figuratively, a recent study suggests that there might be something to it.

Nicholas Rule, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, has participated in a number of studies about the judgments people make based on appearances. When he heard from a graduate student about the self-proclaimed ability of Mormons to physically recognize other Mormons, he was skeptical. He decided to put the claims to test.

What he found was surprising.

“We didn’t think it would work,” Rule, who this fall became an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, explained to the school’s paper, Tufts Journal. “Looking at two groups of faces—Mormon and non-Mormon— nothing popped out and seemed obviously different. We were really surprised when we saw that people could tell who belonged to each group.”

The same article, titled “Spotting the Faithful,” summarizes the details of the study and its results:

Rule and his colleagues obtained images of Mormon and non-Mormon men and women from online personal advertisements posted in various major cities across the United States. Search criteria were restricted to individuals 18 to 30 years old who specifically indicated either membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or membership in another non-Mormon religious organization. Only headshots were shown and the faces had no adornments. What they found was both Mormon and non-Mormon subjects were able to identify who was a Mormon more often than would occur by chance.

Rule and his colleagues then tried to isolate which specific facial feature was betraying Mormons the most. In the end, it proved difficult to determine.

“Even when the researchers removed important features, such as the [hair, shape of the face, nose,] eyes or mouth, the subjects were [still] able to identify Mormons more often than would occur by chance.”

Befuddled, they determined that Mormon- ness must be displayed in skin texture. By testing this hypothesis through statistical modeling, they found that skin texture indeed was the crucial variable in Mormon’s ability to recognize one another.

Why might Mormons have a different skin texture than others? Rule hypothesizes that Mormon’s strict code of health, the Word of Wisdom, may be “reliably communicated” through their skin.

Unaided by such research, statements from Mormon leaders would explain this phenomena a different way.



Brigham Young reportedly said, “‘Mormonism’ keeps men and women young and handsome; and when they are full of the Spirit of God, there are none of them but what will have a glow upon their countenances; and that is what makes you and me young; for the Spirit of God is with us and within us.”

Elder Parley P. Pratt spoke similarly of the beautifying physical effect of having the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“The gift of the Holy Ghost … develops beauty of person, form, and features,” Pratt wrote.” It invigorates all the faculties of the physical … man. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”

More recently, Elder James E. Faust gave a talk called “The Light In Their Eyes.” In this talk he told the following fascinating story:

“I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that non-proselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked, ‘Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?’ He was referring to our students who were studying in Jerusalem.”

In effect, Mormon leaders (both past and present) have suggested that members of the faith look different because of the effect that God’s spirit has upon them. They believe that His godliness “rubs off” on them as they have experiences with God and as they become more like him

Then again, if Young suggests that Mormonism makes men and women young and handsome, does any evidence exists that Mormons are more beautiful than non-Mormons?

Brigham Young University, a private Mormon university, has been recognized on as having the “hottest students in the nation.” (It should be recognized, however, that the rankings done on were determined by surveys provided by the students attending the ranked universities themselves. This ranking, therefore, could really be a reflection of Mormon wishful-thinking rather than objective commentary on their beauty.)

Another silly indicator of Mormon beauty can be discovered by typing in the words “why are” into a Google search and waiting for Google predictive search to suggest the most popular searches beginning with these words. They are these:

  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • Why are Mormons so nice?
  • Why are Mormons so hot?
  • Why are flamingos pink?

That’s right—more curious to Google-ers than the mysterious pinkness of flamingos (but less curious than the shape of manhole covers?) is the niceness and hot-ness of Mormons.

But not all people have recognized the unique beauty that comes to Mormons through Mormonism. On a tour to Salt Lake City, Mark Twain satirically justified the moral propriety of polygamy with a tongue-in- cheek insult towards Mormon women.

“[I had a desire to reform polygamy] until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically ‘homely’ creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, ‘No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”



  1. Jordan /

    Funny. I just did that “Why are…” experiment and Mormons didn’t come up at all. When I typed “Why are Mormons…” it got “so rich” and “so weird.”

    • Corey Wozniak /

      haha. Perhaps the google search is area-specific ( i searched from Utah) which is something i didn’t consider– and maybe proves that Mormons only think they’re better looking than non-Mormons.

    • Kimberlina /

      I just typed in “Why are…” and got the manholes and flamingoes, but no Mormons. Then I typed “Why are Mormons…” and at the top of the list “Why are Mormons so crazy?” Even as a Mormon I had to chuckle.

      • Once I typed in “Why are Mormons…” it asked why Mormons are rich and why they are not Christians. Haha.
        Just “Why are” was mostly about politics not religion. Must be because I live in the greater DC area.

  2. I just tried it and got “why are Mormons so nice?” “why are Mormon girls so hot?” and “why are Mormons so hot?” Hilarious!!!!

  3. Yeah looks like the Google Suggest part is location specific. If you are looking at Google Search Results, just look in the left sidebar and it will show your city and state there. You can set that to anywhere. Change it to somewhere outside Utah and the “why are mormons…” suggestions don’t come up. Maybe the non-Mormons in Utah notice the hotness or niceness of Mormons at especially high rates? Haha, who knows, good article though, guess I’m equipped with “Mormon radar” and I didn’t even know it.

    • Umm….I just did it. I even live outside of Utah and was able to find TONS of information about ‘why are Mormons…’ so, I have no idea what you guys are blabbing about. I just did for one other city and state that I lived in, which was out east and was able to STILL find information about it….

  4. I heard Latter day Saints look…healthier? happier? I would imagine that any member of some faith that is living righteously will tend to be happier…so maybe it’s not happier? hmm…

    • what does it mean to live righteously? Do you imagine that only members of a religious faith can live righteously? And if so, are they the only ones able to achieve happiness?

      • hooray /

        Mormon theology says that righteous living is abiding by your own conscience, and living according to the ethical truth that’s been revealed to you.

  5. Sure enough type in WHY ARE and that’s what you get. But seriously when in a strange country or airport I can spot one a hundred yards off, and I’m seldom wrong.

  6. Hmmm…well let’s hope that people’s “mormon-ness” or their spirituality isn’t judged based on how young looking they are or how clear their skin is. I have rosacea and I’ve lived the Word of Wisdom my whole life. I have friends who have also lived the Word of Wisdom their whole life who carry scars from severe acne. It would be silly to make spiritually-based judgments about them or me based on that factor alone. Although now I’m thinking maybe I need to have a talk with God about my rosacea…

    • I think the article was saying that righteous mormons have a certain glow about them when they are following the Lords commandments. The scriptures tell us that we can receive “his image in our countenance” when
      we take his name and will upon us. Even if we have any kind of skin deformity that same “glow” can surround us and show through to others.

    • hooray /

      I agree that this would be an unfortunate application of the data–

  7. As a professor in a college in Arizona, I found that my Non-Mormon colleagues had a sort of game in which they tried to identify who the Mormons were in their classroom and then wait it out during the semester to see if they were right. I must admit that I fell into the same game. It was interesting. Of 46 years of teaching there (I just retired) I was only wrong once. I was once in a restaurant with my roommate, while in college myself about 50 years ago, and we were talking about this same subject. I told her that a fellow sitting some tables away was LDS. I had no way of knowing from clothing or any other way. When we left, we passed by his table and I leaned over and asked “Are you LDS?” He was shocked and said, “Yes, how did you know?” I won that debate with my roommate. How did I know? First of all, I cannot tell the difference if someone is a “jack-Mormon” or otherwise not living the gospel. Of those who do live the gospel, there is an air of confidence in their looks. They look inwardly contented and happy. Few people these days have that look in their eyes and countenance. This is just my personal observation.

    • For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are [sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies]. – D&C 84:33 Just one of many promises to those who are faithful.

    • I totally relate. When I lived in California ,I used to pride myself on my ability to tell a Mormon. When I moved to Utah, that ability left, as there were so many who did not live their religion in Utah. Now I see a difference in those LDS who live their religion. I could even tell a difference in my parents countenance after going to the temple, when that inner glow was the strongest.

  8. I have personally had comments said to me, such as; “there’s an aura about you” …I will be presenting a lesson in Relief Society soon on the subject; what benefits have you experienced by living the “Word of Wisdom”…This analogy and the comments surrounding it will play a roll in my lesson. For those not familiar with our programs, Relief Society is an inspired organization put in place by Joseph Smith our founding Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the women (sisters) of the church. They will be happy to learn of their unusual beauty and identifying glow.

  9. I’ll bet if they looked again at the data, they would find that the people they thought were Mormons who were not were people of other faiths who were also faithful to God.

  10. Pamela /

    Do converts get the Glow? I know two men that passed in my life (one I was a child) but I saw them a lot. They were always laughed at and I felt something for them, a kinship?? I do not know. But what I do know is that I joined the church and so did those men and not by seeing me. In fact the one man I never saw as a member moved to NY and was in the historic General conference that was in Palmyra with Spencer W. Kimbal.

  11. Isn’t this racist think Nephi’s played this game?
    2 Nephi 5:21:

    21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    • Andrew /

      In keeping with the context of the scripture, it is important to note that the act of rejecting God is the curse, not skin color. Skin color was only used in this specific instance to make sure that believers didn’t marry non-believers and thereby lead their posterity away from God. It does NOT condone discrimination, however, since the Book of Mormon records numerous attempts by the Nephites to go preach to the Lamanites (Alma 17-23 being the most successful). Also, Jacob, Nephi’s brother, teaches the Nephites to “revile no more against them [the Lamanites] because of the darkness of their skins” (Jacob 3:9). He also goes on to say that their filthiness (not skin color) is only a result of their fathers’ unrighteousness, therefore indicating once again the importance of preventing inter-faith marriage.

      In our day, this method of separating people by skin color is no longer needed, and any skin-pigmentation that we find in people is not an indication of inherent wickedness, but mere results of genetics (like human beings needing to adapt to strong sunlight, for instance).

    • Tahadden, I see photos of people of all different races in our church magazines and they all have that glow. It isn’t about whiteness of skin, it’s about the joy in their faces. It makes me happy when I see it.

  12. Flyin' Gram /

    I agree with Carol. I am LDS and a flight attendant, and once had a couple on a flight whom I was certain were LDS. I flashed my CTR ring at them a couple of times to see if that would start a conversation to no avail and asked them where they were from, pretty sure it was Utah. No. I told them I had kids at BYU–no recognition. Finally, I asked the gentleman if he was retired and what he had done professionally in his career. Sure enough, he told me he was a retired pastor. He and his wife certainly had a light in their eyes that I usually see in the LDS population. It was the Light of Christ, and it just made me happy to know that loving Jesus Christ results in a special light, whether we are LDS or mainstream Christian.

  13. I’m a morman and happy to be one of members of or faith, we still have the struggles of day to day things, however we handle them different. we pray alot for help, plus read our scriptures on a daily basis. We also follow what the leaders guide us in to help us grow. We’re truely a christian people and want to please our Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ in what we do. To magnafy them and us. We try to treat each other the best we can. true there are other faiths that have a glow about them also.
    To bad most of the time its the elderly. the yaouger generation are working at it however they think money comes first. I can say this from experiance I know a large amount of people in their 20′s and 40′s that how they have said it to me. My answer to they is put god first and things will cahnge for your family. the help will be there when you need it plus family first. I used to be a workacholic i got hurt big time so I know of what i speack. Love one another also.

  14. Thank you Andrew for your excellent explanation & beautiful comment!

  15. Light and truth..I believe it simply shines through. Cool article! Thank you!

  16. Shannon Chase /

    Try this experiment, I’m right about 98% of the time when I do it. Turn to the obituaries in your local newspaper and study the faces of those people displayed there. Without reading a word of the written text mark the ones you believe are LDS when go back and read the short senopisis of their lives. As I said, I’m almost always right and another interesting thing I’ve found is the ones I misjudged seemed to have lead a very exemplary life of service and love for others.

  17. Meredith /

    The art above looks like Morrissey. I didn’t know he was LDS? ;)

  18. I liked Mark Twain’s comment. I always have maintained that polygamists should not be prosecuted…they are being punished enough already! Oh, and the real punishment for polygamy is more than one mother in law.

  19. Amanda /

    On a recent trip to Disneyland we started playing “Spot the Mormon.” But there you have additional help because you have a whole family to look at and you can see how they are dressed. Modestly dressed mothers on a hot day are your first big clue!

  20. I was in in London last month and was trying to find the Hyde park chapel for the YA service at 1:00. (Even though I’m not a YA) I was close but had missed it somehow. I was by the Tube entrance and noticed a young couple with two little girls in tow, crossing the road toward the tube and I just knew. I didnt even have to ask. I followed the direction they had come from and bingo, there was the church with the beautifully Christus in the window.
    Side note about color in the scriptures: when white or black or dark or light is written, it usually does not mean skin color. It refers to spirituality. White and delightsome just means a very spiritual people.

  21. Annie
    Of course Mormons have a glow about them. People with a glow are more beautiful.
    Of course–Mormons who do not follow the teachings of Christ have the opposite effect. I notice they are defensive, worldly, aggresive in their denials and just plain hard to get along with. The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints has a perfect plan. The really amazing thing is that it is so simple. The road to perfection is a happy journey.
    It starts with repentance and ends with Christ. Contact the missionaries and find out more.

  22. There MUST be something to it (LOL). I was once asked if Mormons used electricity for lighting in their churches. Why? Because every Mormon that person knew ‘glowed’ so why would they need lights?

  23. The light of Christ is a very identifiable feature. If you know something is true, there’s no hiding it.

  24. Christy /

    I just want to know why they (not all but many) are so mean. I had Mormon friends before I moved to Utah all very dear. However upon my arrival I was shocked to see how rudely many behaved toward myself and my family. I was addressed as a “you people” in a professional setting. Many non Mormon folks have a difficult time with their children making friends because they are not accepted for being different. In general I have also noticed the culture here is more rude than even California. In stores people will put their heads down and shove their way through isles. No matter who is in their way they continue to shove as though if they pretend to not see you or make eye contact it is ok?

    • I am so sorry you feel that way! Sometimes it’s more the person and their personality than their religion. Sometimes it’s a child’s misunderstanding that choosing “good friends” does not mean “Mormon friends”. As a child it is confusing to differentiate that in their minds when they are exposed to so many Mormons and not as many non-Mormons. Sometimes it’s sad the way that is. Maybe you should try visiting one of the ward branches nearby and see for yourself why it seems to be that way? You can check out more on :)

  25. I have had people throughout my life say things about glowing, or “there’s something about you etc” I love the Gospel! Since becoming a FT prosylting missionary with my husband, I kid you not!! Ppl ask me if I’m 15- 20 years younger ( guessing my age!) I believe it is the Holy Ghost. I’m not perfect, but I love ppl and want to bring the Gospel to them. FYI please see, chat w missionaries online at

  26. daveo /

    This is perhaps the most ridiculous article I have ever read. Of course, I just wouldn’t understand because I don’t ‘glow’ like you do.


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