Would you prefer your prime minister, president, or beloved leader to look healthy, intelligent, or both? Researchers from the VU University of Amsterdam say that given the choice, people prioritise healthy-looking candidates over intelligent ones.
The team, lead by Brian Spisak, were exploring the phenomenon known as the attractiveness halo effect, which is when a person is assumed to have positive qualities simply because they are attractive.
"People that score higher on perceived attractiveness," said Spisak, "get rated higher on all kinds of other qualities such as trustworthiness, ambition and, importantly for my research, leadership."
The study, which is published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, sought to distinguish between two components of attractiveness: intelligence and healthiness. And which of the two did people rely on most when choosing a leader?
Volunteers were given a job description for a CEO and asked to select someone to fill the role, based solely on a headshot.
"Across all contexts in our study," continued Spisak, "health was in general preferred, whereas intelligence was only preferred in certain contexts."
In fact, when given a choice, 69% of people chose a healthy leader over an unhealthy-looking one, but a preference for intelligent looking leaders only appeared when the job description included innovation or diplomacy.
The images that were used in the study were obtained by digitally altering a male face. The appearance of intelligence was effected by making a structural change to the face while the impression of health was created by altering the colouration.
"I'd like to think that I have both a healthy and an intelligent face," says Spisak, reluctantly. "But I think that is for others to perceive and make the judgement call!"
Listen to the full interview with Brian Spisak here.
I sometimes wonder about the way these experiments are constructed. They claim that people rate more attractive people as more intelligent, and that may well be true. But you're also asking them to make a decision about something with no information to base that decision on. So they just base it on any other noticeable difference they consider to be a positive, because that's all they have to work with. I'd like to know what the outcome would be if the noticeable difference in the photograph was something else - nicer clothes, or a friendlier smile, age, or even some more aesthetically pleasing but completely unrelated quality of the photograph itself. etc. Is there is ever anything negative or neutral that people associate intelligence with?
The only contemporary I ever envied in this world was Elizabeth Jones, who was unable to receive her PhD in person as she was booked to appear in the Miss Universe finals on the same day. She came third, but it didn't diminish the envy, so I went back to the gym but never got the modelling contract* or the Fields Medal.
I favour the "Wilford Brimley", better known to UK aviators as the "bulletproof" - it fits an oxygen mask better than the WWI handlebar, and beards, despite being standard issue for naval aviators http://grandlogistics.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/sharkey-ward.html, either leak oxygen or catch fire in extremis. alancalverd, Sun, 9th Nov 2014
The only thing I could see in the photos above were the intelligent face seems somewhat longer, but not really disproportionately so. And the non intelligent face seemed stockier, the jaw more massive, the brow heavier. Although they look similar in age, the low intelligent face has a more child like quality because of the roundness, and despite the brow and jaw. The lips are slightly upturned in the intelligent faces and the gaze a bit more direct. The gaze of the unintelligent face seems slightly unfocused or misdirected. I wonder what other things they tweaked that I'm not noticing.
One of the most famous US Presidents, FDR... well, he wasn't known for his physical prowess. And, his British counterpart, Winston was always a little bit on the robust side.
I'd like to see the experiment done with politicians. In Britain, people could be tested on politicians from countries that don't speak English and who are not widely known on the international stage. In return, the public in the same foreign countries could judge our lesser political leaders, meaning anyone who isn't the PM. It would be very interesting to see what they make of Ed Milliband. It would be interesting too to see what they make of him (and his rivals) if they only see the text of what he says. I'd like to know if what he says only sounds stupid because I'm influenced so much by the way he looks and sounds. Anything that I read which is attributed to him automatically generates in my head a picture of him and the sound of his voice, so I may be incapable of judging him fairly. David Cooper, Thu, 13th Nov 2014
Thinking back to FDR that I mentioned earlier, apparently everyone around him was very careful to mask his disabilities from the public.
I did read an article a while back that said people could predict the winner of elections they knew nothing about based on appearance of the candidates in photos about 60-70% of the time. It might have been one of these. And the one mentioned in the Scientific American article is with kids!
I heard a great comment on a radip phone-in during an Irish election. Caller said "Look at the photos on the posters. If I tried to sell a car with a retouched photo of what it looked like ten years ago, I'd be prosecuted for fraud."