Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Who Will Win An Election? Snap Judgments Of Face To Gauge Competence Usually Enough

Date:
October 23, 2007
Source:
Princeton University
Summary:
A split-second glance at two candidates' faces is often enough to determine which one will win an election, according to a new study. Psychologists have demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election returns. People unconsciously judge the competence of an unfamiliar face within a tenth of a second.

A split-second glance at two candidates' faces is often enough to determine which one will win an election, according to a Princeton University study.

Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov has demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election returns. Todorov has taken some of his previous research that 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 lab tests show 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."

Todorov and 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.

What was unknown to the participants in the third experiment was that the image pairs were actually the photographs of the two frontrunner candidates for a major election being held somewhere in the United States during the time of the experiment in late 2006. The races 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. They 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," Todorov said. "Voters are not that rational, after all. So maybe we have to consider that when we elect our politicians."

Todorov's paper on the findings, written with Ballew, appears in the Oct. 22 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper has inspired researchers elsewhere to re-examine their assumptions about visual images and their effect on decision-making among the public.

"Political scientists have spent 50 years documenting only modest effects of the media on voting behavior, but Todorov's research suggests we may have been looking in the wrong place," said Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Most of these previous studies have relied on transcripts or printed records of what the media say, with much less attention to visual images."

Lawson, who called Todorov's work "pioneering," added that some of his own work corroborates the new findings, indicating that competence appears to be a universal quality, recognizable across cultures. His research shows that American observers could predict the outcome of elections in Mexico based on the same gut reactions.

"Both of these papers speak to the seminal quality of appearance in candidate success," Lawson said. "Our findings surprised us, because Mexican politicians often emphasize very different aspects of their appearance, such as facial hair, which American political figures avoid. But Americans could still pick out the Mexican winners. Our data show effects at least as strong as those Todorov found."

Political scientists, Todorov said, are likely to be most interested in his findings, primarily because they will want to identify which voters are most strongly influenced.

"It's still unclear how these effects operate in the real world," he said. "Not every voter is going to be affected. Obviously, some people vote according to their values, but many others are uninformed about candidates' policy decisions. So we need to do the hard work to find out."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Princeton University. "Who Will Win An Election? Snap Judgments Of Face To Gauge Competence Usually Enough." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071022171925.htm>.
Princeton University. (2007, October 23). Who Will Win An Election? Snap Judgments Of Face To Gauge Competence Usually Enough. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071022171925.htm
Princeton University. "Who Will Win An Election? Snap Judgments Of Face To Gauge Competence Usually Enough." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071022171925.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Frustration As Drone Industry Outpaces Regulation In U.S.

Frustration As Drone Industry Outpaces Regulation In U.S.

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) U.S. firms worry they’re falling behind in the marketplace as the FAA considers how to regulate commercial drones. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Gun Innovators Fear Backlash From Gun Rights Advocates

Smart Gun Innovators Fear Backlash From Gun Rights Advocates

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) Winners of a contest for smart gun design are asking not to be named after others in the industry received threats for marketing similar products. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins