[FoRK] Face in the crowd
Gregory Alan Bolcer
gbolcer at endeavors.com
Thu Feb 26 09:39:14 PST 2004
Not sure if this made it the first time.
I was in Rosenberg's social psychology class. I got to see the very
first presentation of the idea as a test run before it
was disclosed to the public. It wasn't very well received.
Sunday, February 22, 2004
What you see is what you elect
Come November, the man with the most ‘dominant’ face may win.
Does John Kerry look too much like Herman Munster, or a bloodhound, or
the craggy apple tree that attacked Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”?
• Is a preference for beauty hard-wired into us?
• Critiquing the candidates
By TERI SFORZA
The Orange County Register
Does John Kerry look too much like Herman Munster, or a bloodhound, or
the craggy apple tree that attacked Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz"?
Is John Edwards too attractive and youthful to inspire confidence? Did
Howard Dean's lack of height - and a neck - have anything to do with his
Scoff at the shallowness if you will, but this much is true: Research
shows that a candidate's appearance greatly influences a voter's vote.
People favor tall candidates over shorter ones. They prefer "dominant"
faces over attractive ones. They have firm preferences for large lower
jaws, pronounced brow ridges, sharp cheekbones and receding hairlines.
They rank handsome candidates higher on positive qualities - honesty,
competence, credibility, trustworthiness - and rate unattractive
candidates more negatively. Was there ever really hope for Dennis
Kucinich, who has evoked an elf, troll, hobbit, UFO pilot and Home Depot
manager in the public imagination?
Physical appearance is a significant part of the election equation for
voters, according to Shawn Rosenberg, director of graduate political
psychology at the University of California, Irvine. Although people will
never admit it, appearance can rival issues in the decison-making process.
As Californians head to the polls March 2, they'll likely be influenced
by the candidates' appearances, whether they realize it or not.
It's not a stretch to say that a candidate's stature may play a role in
his electability. The "Presidential Height Index" - an unscientific
analysis of presidential-hopeful heights since the dawn of the TV age -
shows that the tallest candidate won the most votes in every White House
race except one: The 1976 contest between Jimmy Carter (5 feet, 9
inches) and Gerald Ford (6 feet 2). Even Al Gore (6 feet 1) earned more
popular votes than George W. Bush (5 feet 11) in 2000.
The preference for tallness seems to hold strong outside politics as
well. A study by researchers at the University of Florida and University
of North Carolina found that taller people earn $789 extra per inch, per
year, than their shorter peers.
How would this stand in the 2004 election? John Kerry towers over his
rivals - Democratic and incumbent Republican president alike - at about
6 feet 4. John Edwards comes in next at about 6 feet. Both George Bush
and Al Sharpton stand about 5 feet 11; Wesley Clark is 5 feet 10; Howard
Dean, almost 5 feet 9; and Dennis Kucinich, 5 feet 7.
It's a sensitive issue. Dean recently took great umbrage at a New York
Times story describing him as "diminutive." Dean told reporters he's
5-8, almost 5-9, then settled on 5-8 and three-quarters - quickly adding
that he doesn't usually get into the whole three-quarters thing because
it sounds like he's touchy about his height, and he's not.
Your mother lied. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.
Research has found that there is a universal standard of attractiveness
that holds stubbornly firm across cultures. Folks from America, Europe,
Africa and Asia may not agree on politics, but they do agree on what is
beautiful and what is not.
James N. Schubert didn't mean to get mixed up in all this. He was in
Romania - on sabbatical from Northern Illinois University - studying the
AIDS epidemic with a biologist from the University of Bucharest. It just
so happened that Romania was holding national elections at the time.
Sixteen people were running for president, and since Romanian TV is
state-run, all candidates got equal time. Schubert found himself
watching their pitches endlessly.
He started videotaping the candidates and when the election was over, he
was struck by the correlation between how they looked and how they fared
in the popular vote. "I was astounded," he said.
So astounded that he designed an experiment to see if this was an
aberration. In 1997 and 1998, he showed pictures and videotapes of the
Romanian candidates to people from America to Asia, asking them to rate
the candidates on their electability. The video was shown without sound,
so the exercise would be based entirely on appearance.
To Schubert's amazement, the winners in the Romanian election were also
the winners with his test subjects. The candidates who looked the most
electable were the most electable.
Schubert and his research assistants began to dissect these winning
faces. They measured cheekbones, chins, eyebrow ridges, facial symmetry.
Conclusion: Most people, regardless of culture, like the same things in
male leaders - pronounced lower jaws, sharp brow ridges and cheekbones,
receding hairlines. Not necessarily handsome, but tough and strong.
Think Charlton Heston. Schubert calls this look "facial dominance."
Then he turned his lens on America. He focused on 40 men and women
running for Congress in the 1999-2000 race. He asked voters to rate the
electability, competence, compassion, honesty, likeability, leadership
ability, attractiveness and facial dominance of the candidates, based
solely on photos and video. Conclusion: Attractive candidates rated high
on the warm and fuzzies like compassion and likeability. Candidates with
dominant faces rated high on competence and leadership. But candidates
could not be too attractive; people tended to write them off as eye candy.
"People aren't aware of it; they don't understand they're doing it,"
Schubert said. "These are implicit stereotypes that people use. When you
have very little political issue information, the kind of information
people have access to is what they see on the three-second sound bites
on the evening news."
Once upon a time, Clark lead the Democratic hopefuls with the most
classically dominant face, Schubert said. Clark was a hit when he first
entered the race and people knew little about him; but in the end,
facial dominance didn't get him very far.
Edwards scores low in facial dominance, but high in attractiveness.
People rate him high on things like honesty, but he has to fight his own
baby-facedness, constantly reminding crowds he's 50 years old,
experienced and able to lead.
Kerry is in a facial no-man's land. He rates neither high nor low on
dominance or attractiveness. "He is not distinguished," Schubert said.
Not to worry: When President Bush was rated in 1999, he didn't stand out
much, either, Schubert said. But Bush did very well on non-verbal
communication; he appeared relaxed and comfortable in his skin, while Al
Gore came across as stiff and mechanical. "That became a big issue in
the election, and it illustrates how people respond to these things, but
from a rational point of view, they shouldn't," Schubert said.
Like Gore, Kerry has been criticized for being too stiff. His wife,
Teresa Heinz Kerry, worries that his thinness might be part of the
problem: "I sometimes wonder if he weighed another 50 or 30 pounds, if
he would look cozier, more accessible," she told "Good Morning America."
UCI's Rosenberg started doing research on voting and appearance more
than 15 years ago. Then, politicos in Orange County dismissed his
conclusions as "moronic."
Rosenberg asked hundreds of subjects to rate real and fake politicians -
using only photographs - on competence, trustworthiness, leadership
ability and political demeanor. Conclusion: Candidates could
significantly boost their standing by manipulating hairstyle, makeup,
facial characteristics, camera angles and clothing. The boost - up to 17
percent for women and 18 percent for men - occurred regardless of
political party or positions on key issues.
Voters liked light eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes (with a lot of curvature
in the upper eyelid), thin lips, light complexions, broad or round
faces, and short hair (combed back or to the side). Dark, formal clothes
worked best on men; formal blouses and lightly contrasting jackets were
best on women. On women, simple necklaces and earrings worked better
than no jewelry at all.
People think they have a sense of what competence and trustworthiness
look like, based on images that are pervasive in our culture, Rosenberg
Bottom line: Voters often refuse to consider a candidate's positions on
the issues until they perceive he's "electable" based on attractiveness
and manner. They presume good-looking politicians are smarter than ugly
ones, and see them as more poised, effective and sociable, numerous
studies have found. Attractive candidates are rated as more competent,
honest, compassionate and as having more leadership ability than their
more homely brethren.
Of course, appearance holds more sway with people who pay little
attention to politics than to policy wonks and ideological die-hards.
But there's one simple, ugly truth in all this: "People are more likely
to pay attention to an Edwards than a Kucinich," Schubert said.
CONTACT US: (714) 796-6910 or tsforza at ocregister.com
Gregory Alan Bolcer, CTO | work: +1.949.833.2800
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