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August 5, 2005
The Politics of Face
What constitutes an attractive face? For both men and women symmetry, averageness, large eyes and large cheekbones are deemed attractive. Across cultures males find females with thick lips, small noses, and thin eyebrows more attractive, while women are attracted to men with more "chiseled" features. Given there is a natural propensity to find certain faces attractive, what impact might this be having in politics?
In a Report in the 10 June 2005 Science, researchers demonstrated just how quickly first impressions are formed and what consequences they can have. "Volunteers were asked to judge the relative competence of recent candidates for U.S. Congress races, based solely on 1-second view of the candidates' black-and-white head shots. Amazingly, these inferences, based solely on facial appearance and with no prior knowledge of the person, correctly predicted the election outcomes nearly 70% of the time. Moreover, the competence judgments were linearly related to the margin of victory.
Inferences of other traits such as likeability and trustworthiness did not prove to be accurate predictors. These findings suggest that that rapid unreflective trait judgments contribute to voting choices, which are assumed to be primarily based on rational, deliberative considerations. In an accompanying Perspective, it is suggested that candidates perceived as less competent in the study probably looked more "babyfaced" -- a facial quality often associated with being submissive, naïve and weak."
Some say that first impressions are everything. They influence how we approach and react to others, and often lead us to make snap judgments about a person's character. I'd be interested to see this experiment tested in the next national election.
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