Thursday, July 23, 2009

Elections and faces

Alexander Todorov is the leading researcher in the fascinating and rapid-evolving field I'm doing my graduate research in -- the effects of rapid facial judgments on political elections. So I was happy to see that he (and co-author Christopher Olivola) recently wrote a popular article for Scientific American magazine summarizing this line of research. A titbit:
Although we would like to assume that voters are too sophisticated and rational to be swayed by superficial cues, the research paints a much less flattering picture. Even when it comes to electing their leaders, it seems, people are heavily influenced by the images that these politicians project (even unwittingly). In particular, politicians with facial features that make them look like they possess strong leadership qualities seem to be at an advantage, at least among some voters. (Appearing like a leader seems to be tied up with perceived competence, and is different from appearing attractive.) Research by Gabriel Lenz and Chappell Lawson at MIT shows that candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.

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