[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

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 
has said.

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
gbolcer at endeavors.com  | http://endeavors.com
Endeavors Technology, Inc.| cell: +1.714.928.5476

More information about the FoRK mailing list