It just takes a split-second to judge a politician by his face

November 14th, 2007 - 2:42 am ICT by admin  

Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov has demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election outcomes.

Todorov’s previous research showed that people unconsciously judge the competence of an unfamiliar face within a tenth of a second, and he has moved it to the political arena.

His laboratory tests have revealed that a rapid appraisal of the relative competence of two candidates’ faces was sufficient to predict the winner in about 70 percent of the races for U.S. senator and state governor in the 2006 elections.

“We never told our test subjects they were looking at candidates for political office - we only asked them to make a gut reaction response as to which unfamiliar face appeared more competent,” said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs.

“The findings suggest that fast, unreflective judgments based on a candidate’s face can affect voting decisions,” he added.

Todorov and his colleague Charles Ballew, an undergraduate psychology major who graduated from Princeton in 2006, conducted three experiments in which several dozen participants had to make snap judgments about faces.

Participants were shown a series of photos, each containing a pair of faces, and asked to choose, based purely on gut feeling, which face they felt displayed more competence. The differences among the experiments largely concerned the amounts of time an observer was allowed to view the faces - as brief as a tenth of a second or longer - and to pass judgment afterward.

Participants were not aware in the third experiment that the image pairs were actually the photographs of the two frontrunner candidates for a major election being held somewhere in the U.S. during the time of the experiment in late 2006.

The elections were either for state governor or for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

In cases where an observer recognized either of the two faces, the researchers removed the selection from the data.

Two weeks later elections were held, and the researchers compared the competency judgments with the election results.

After the comparative analysis, it was found that the judgments predicted the winners in 72.4 percent of the senatorial races and 68.6 percent of the gubernatorial races.

This means that with a quick look at two photos, you have a great chance of predicting who will win. Voters are not that rational, after all. So maybe we have to consider that when we elect our politicians,” Todorov said.

The study is published in the Oct. 22 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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