Appearances Matter

by | Aug 14, 2019

Quick – who looks more competent?*

In a study from 2007 Princeton researchers showed volunteers pictures of people for just a split second. The pictures were of candidates in governor and senate races in other parts of the country. So, for instance, the volunteers might be shown a split second image of the two candidates for governor in Idaho. “To ensure that competence judgments were based solely on facial appearance and not on prior person knowledge, judgments for races in which the participant recognized any of the faces were excluded from all analyses.”

The volunteers were only told to pick the person “who looked more competent.” They were not told anything about elections or who the people in the pictures were.

An example of an experimental trial in the 250-ms presentation condition. Participants decided who was more competent.

The volunteers ended up picking the winner in 68.6% of the gubernatorial races and 72.4% of the Senate races. These effects were independent of the incumbency status of the candidates. The findings suggest that rapid, un-reflective judgments of competence from faces can affect voting decisions and may be a driving, albeit subconscious, factor in making all sorts of decisions.

Obviously, with a 70% success rate, the volunteers’ ability to pick the winning candidates was statistically significant – meaning that their accuracy likely could not be attributed to chance.

This study suggests that voting decisions are not always rational decisions. Not a big surprise there. Instead of judging competence based on voting record and stance on various issues this research suggests that voters may take more superficial characteristics into account in deciding between candidates. Part of the problem may be the vast amount of information with which voters or subjected.

Based on this study it may be more important for a candidate to spend $200 on a great haircut than $2 million on additional advertisements.

This study confirms appearances do matter. Appearances likely affect our hiring of hire people, how we choose our dentist, lawyer and which checker we choose at the grocery store.

* The picture at the top of the page is of the two candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia in 2018, Patrick Morrisey, left, and Joe Manchin, right. Joe Manchin, the incumbent, won re-election.

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1 Comment

  1. So, Barry Sanders might as well give up is my conclusion!


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