A Finding With Many Implications

Is a photo worth a thousand votes?:

People asked to rate the competence of an individual based on a quick glance at a photo predicted the outcome of elections more than two-thirds of the time.

Nearly 300 students at Princeton University were asked to look at pairs of photographs for as little as one-tenth of a second and pick the individual they felt was more competent, psychologist Alexander Todorov reports in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The participants were shown photos of leading candidates for governor or senator in other parts of the country, but they were not told they were evaluating candidates. Those who recognized any of the photos were not counted.

When the elections took place two weeks later, the researchers found that the competency snap judgments predicted the winners in 72.4 percent of the senatorial races and 68.6 percent of the gubernatorial races.

It seems to me that this finding, if valid, has many implications.

  • National political parties should focus group photos before deciding who to recruit or support in primaries
  • I'll bet it's a very sexist test — this may explain part of how elections disadvantage female candidates.
  • I wonder if this works for law schools? Would student satisfaction be higher when taught by professors whose looks signaled competence? Can we focus group potential hires via their photos? Can we do it without disadvantaging anyone who's not a white male of a certain age?
  • Might it be that dress sends signals of competence? If so, is it important to dress up (or down?) for the first day of class?
  • “Lookist” takes on a new meaning
  • Do I sense the makings of a new suspect class? Are people who don't look competent to others a “discrete and insular minority”? Certainly their disability affect electability, thus undermining their political power, which is one of the tests….

And, how do I look?

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3 Responses to A Finding With Many Implications

  1. Dave says:

    What these people were determining was not actually competence but win-ability in the political spectrum. I’m sure some parties use research that is similar before they start to recruit some candiates (did you ever see someone with really bad teeth). Its just that this study actually proved that the information is useful.

  2. Abe says:

    Honestly, I probably wouldn’t vote for you. It’s interesting (although not surprising) that you look nothing like I would have expected from reading your posts semi-regularly.

  3. Alexis says:

    This study explains hardly any of the variability in outcome. See http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005062.html.

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