Healthy Looking Leaders

06 November 2014
Posted by Timothy Revell.

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.Healthy and Intelligent Faces

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.

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