‘Babyface’ catalyzes ascension of African-American CEOs

May 1st, 2009 - 2:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 1 (IANS) Even as Obama commemorates his 100th day as the country’s first African-American president, a new study examines the intersection of race and power in corporate America.
African-American CEOs categorized as having a babyface tend to be at the helm of more prestigious corporations than black CEO’s who have a more mature appearance.

Searching for traits common to African-American CEOs, researchers demonstrated that babyfaces and perceived warmer physical appearances can act as disarming mechanisms within the social hierarchy.

“Prior research has shown babyface-type traits are a liability for those striving for a leadership role because they undermine perceptions of competence, but these studies focused on white males,” said Livingston, study co-author and professor of management at the Kellogg School of Management.

“Because a babyface is disarming, we hypothesized that it would provide an advantage to black leaders who have a history of being stigmatized as too threatening to occupy positions of high power.”

The researchers identified several traits associated with “babyfaceness” including a rounder face, larger forehead, smaller nose, larger ears and fuller, pouty lips.

Despite these individual features, babyface is a “gestalt” or whole that is easily recognizable by people. Babyfaceness is an attribute that generalizes across regions, ethnicities, gender and even species, as identified by social psychologists.

There is a universal, evolutionary response to babies across all cultures because infants require special care, attention, and nurturing in order to survive.

This adaptive response to infants is over-generalized to adults who have features that resemble babies. The result is that babyfaced adults are treated differently compared to mature faced adults: babyfaced adults are considered more warm, innocent and trustworthy.

Non-black women and men were shown 40 head shot photos of black men and white women and men. Though the faces were not recognized by participants, all were current or former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Participants were asked to rate how babyfaced, how attractive, and also how old, each person appeared. They also rated each in terms of perceived personality traits, said a Kellogg release.

For example, how warm did a person appear? How competent would they be as a leader? Participants were then asked to use those same personality criteria to rate, in general, how they perceive blacks and whites. Finally, participants guessed how much money each person earned.

The findings are slated for publication in Psychological Sciences.

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