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Old 02-26-2007, 11:58 AM
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Physiognomy and voter preference

Taking our leaders at face value
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A new study suggests that how we respond to a candidate's face could determine who we vote for
Feb 25, 2007 04:30 AM
Kurt Kleiner
Special to the Star

Neither Stephen Harper nor Stéphane Dion seems likely to have coasted to success on their looks alone – perhaps the opposite. But new scientific research suggests that the candidates' faces might be as important as their policies when the next election rolls around.

The qualities that voters think they can discern in a candidate's face have a surprisingly strong influence on how they vote. In fact, if you take the new research at face value, how much voters like (or dislike) a candidate's face is the only thing that will decide who wins or loses.

What matters to voters isn't so much whether a candidate is attractive or not. Instead, voters look for facial cues for personality traits like aggressiveness, intelligence, honesty, friendliness, and competence.

The surprising thing isn't that people look for these cues – it's that judgments about a candidate's face all by themselves seem to predict whether he or she will win or lose the election.

The importance of image in the television age isn't news. In fact, it's been almost 50 years since a vibrant John F. Kennedy (looking good in studio makeup) trounced a pallid Richard Nixon in the televised 1960 United States presidential debate.

These days candidates carefully manage their appearances – hairstyle, clothes, weight, even facial expressions – in an attempt to look good on TV. But this new research suggests that there's something even more basic at work than the right tie or a good haircut. It seems to be the very features of the face that attract or repel voters.

It's hard to untangle how actual voters, faced with a live candidate, are affected by the face, partly because their feelings about a candidate's policies and personality might affect their perceptions.

So Anthony C. Little, a psychologist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, and colleagues decided to use computerized "morphing" techniques to examine the question.

In research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, they used the faces of candidates from eight real elections in the U.S., New Zealand, and Great Britain, including candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry from the 2004 U.S. presidential election.

Then they used a computer-imaging technique to combine each face with a nondescript male face that had been created by averaging the faces of 10 university students.

The result was a pair of faces that was not recognizable as either candidate, but nevertheless bore a sort of family resemblance to the originals – young, unblemished, they could have been the candidates' college-age nephews. The altered Bush has narrow-set eyes and a slightly heavy brow, the altered Kerry wide-set eyes and a long face.

Then the researchers asked people to look at the faces and say who they would vote for.

In all eight races, the votes based on composite faces gave the same results as the actual elections.

That bears emphasizing. Sitting at a computer screen, with nothing to go on but a face, a majority of the hundred or so volunteers consistently chose the same candidates as did the millions of voters who had been exposed to newspaper articles, television reports, and intense campaigning.

"We actually beat quite a lot of polls in accuracy," Little says.

Although the percentages weren't exactly the same for each race, the volunteers always chose the same candidate who ended up winning the popular vote in the actual election.

In a second experiment, the researchers looked in detail at what people saw in the faces, and whether circumstances would change their choices.

First they surveyed people about what they thought they saw in the altered Bush and Kerry faces. The Bush face was judged as more masculine and dominant. The Kerry face was rated as more attractive, forgiving, likeable and intelligent.

Then the researchers asked people to choose which face would be a better leader in a time of war, and which in a time of peace. Bush won 74 per cent of the war-time vote, while Kerry won 61 per cent of the peace-time vote.

Apparently, people will choose a candidate they perceive as dominant if they think he'll have to handle a war, but prefer intelligence and likeability as long as there's no shooting going on.

But how likely is it that people are really making their decisions based solely on faces? Even Little doesn't really believe it. After all, large chunks of the electorate still vote for a strong party line, and are going to vote for their party's candidate no matter what he or she looks like.

On the other hand, undecided voters are more likely to base decisions on their judgment of individual candidates. Those are the ones who could be heavily influenced by a candidate's face, whether they realize it or not.

"I think it's people just making voting decisions based on the gut instinct of whether you trust someone, whether you think they would make a good leader," Little says. "You trust your instincts."

It shouldn't be surprising that faces are so important to us. We've evolved to pay a tremendous amount of attention to them. Newborn babies look toward faces within minutes of birth. In lab experiments, people are able to judge the emotions on a face in a fraction of a second. They can pick out the faces of high school classmates 40 years after graduation.

"We don't like the idea of people making choices on the basis of the candidate's appearance," says Shawn W. Rosenberg, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who has done similar work. "But if you think of the average voter, the average voter has relatively minimal information. People are not generally all that interested in politics, they are only aware of it on the periphery."

So following a "gut feeling," informed by his judgment of a candidate's face, might be the best a voter can do.

The problem is, despite our specialized cognitive machinery for dealing with faces, it turns out that faces aren't a very good guide for judging other people.

Studies show that people think they can read all sorts of things about people based on their faces, including intelligence, basic character and personality traits. Unfortunately, the same studies show that we're not as accurate as we think we are.

Like everyone else, I know that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And like everyone else, I do it all the time – summing someone up in the street, or at a party, or on the subway, based largely on what I think I see in his face. I'm usually pretty confident I'm right, but I'm also probably wrong.

Misjudging someone at a party based on his face is one thing. Misjudging the leader of a country for the same reason is another, much more serious thing. Faces and gut feelings are no way to choose a leader.

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Old 02-26-2007, 12:19 PM
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Given the advances in computer hardware and software, I'm hoping to decide my vote for the 2012 presidential candidates based on a type of virtual phrenology, where I can view a 3D image of a candidate's skull and see where all the bumps are at. I expect that some skulls will be quite pointy.
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Old 02-26-2007, 12:43 PM
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Given the advances in computer hardware and software, I'm hoping to decide my vote for the 2012 presidential candidates based on a type of virtual phrenology, where I can view a 3D image of a candidate's skull and see where all the bumps are at. I expect that some skulls will be quite pointy.
So give a listen,noses you don't look at?
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Old 02-26-2007, 12:59 PM
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So give a listen,noses you don't look at?
A nose knows...do you suppose that Kerry didn't get elected cause he looked like Herman Munster but how do you explain all those people voting for "Curious George?"
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:03 PM
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A nose knows...do you suppose that Kerry didn't get elected cause he looked like Herman Munster but how do you explain all those people voting for "Curious George?"
Must have been the dimples in his chads....
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:14 PM
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Sometimes the truth will lead you astray.
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:23 PM
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Sometimes the truth will lead you astray.
As long as your doing the leading....
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Mistress View Post
As long as your doing the leading....
Ladies first...
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  #9  
Old 02-26-2007, 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by PaulC View Post
Given the advances in computer hardware and software, I'm hoping to decide my vote for the 2012 presidential candidates based on a type of virtual phrenology, where I can view a 3D image of a candidate's skull and see where all the bumps are at. I expect that some skulls will be quite pointy.
Congrats dude. Phrenology has approximately nothing to do with the notions the author of the OP was presenting. It's the energy on the face, not the lumps on the head, or the spacing of the eyes.
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  #10  
Old 02-26-2007, 08:20 PM
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A nose knows...do you suppose that Kerry didn't get elected cause he looked like Herman Munster but how do you explain all those people voting for "Curious George?"
I'll have to admit that Geo. presents a robust and optimistic visage about half the time. He was more graceful than Gore and Kerry in many ways. Not smarter, just smoother.

Say Bot, you having an epiphany here? This dovetails nicely with Dr. cmac's rule on elections:

Nine times out of ten, the geekier guy loses.

Not always the most intelligent way of doing things -- but people going to do it, most of the time.
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  #11  
Old 02-26-2007, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by cmac2012 View Post
Congrats dude. Phrenology has approximately nothing to do with the notions the author of the OP was presenting. It's the energy on the face, not the lumps on the head, or the spacing of the eyes.
Perhaps if we could feel the heads of the candidates... we would get better results.
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  #12  
Old 02-26-2007, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by A264172 View Post
Perhaps if we could feel the heads of the candidates... we would get better results.
The Clinton Campaign: Vote for the candidate with the best head.

B
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  #13  
Old 02-26-2007, 08:43 PM
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The Clinton Campaign: Vote for the candidate with the best head.

B
Might backfire, since Bill needed to bring in outside assistance when she had a chance to prove it.
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  #14  
Old 02-26-2007, 09:51 PM
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Congrats dude. Phrenology has approximately nothing to do with the notions the author of the OP was presenting. It's the energy on the face, not the lumps on the head, or the spacing of the eyes.
I know.
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  #15  
Old 02-26-2007, 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by cmac2012 View Post
Congrats dude. Phrenology has approximately nothing to do with the notions the author of the OP was presenting. It's the energy on the face, not the lumps on the head, or the spacing of the eyes.
i am pretty sure paul c was joking.

at least i LOL.

tom w

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