I just ran across this study in Scientific American, May 5th, 2009 entitled “The Look of a Winner”. The study had Swiss children aged 5 to 13 playing a game based on Odysseus’ voyage from Troy back to Ithaca. At the end of the game they were asked to pick their captain to lead them from two images. Unbeknownst to the children they were two rival candidates from the French parliamentary elections. The researchers found that the Swiss children’s choice of captain, based solely on the pictures, was the person more likely to win the French election. Further, five year old judgements were about as good as adults.
The article notes that appearing like a leader is appearing competent, not attractive. Other researchers have found, “That candidate appearances have the strongest impact on voters who possess little political knowledge and spend a lot of time in front of their television screens.”
My knee jerk scientific reaction is more studies are needed but those that have been done are pointing to a consistent conclusion: large numbers of people base their candidate choice consistently with facial appearance. If these results continue to hold up I have a few thoughts:
- Is just seeing a face good enough? In other words it’s possible that after thousands of millenia of evolving, and the importance of picking good leaders to surviving, maybe we can identify competent leaders by just looking. Though it seems to me that what might have worked in the past, like craving sweets and fats, may not work so well in this obese, nuclear armed, inside the beginning of Earth’s sixth major extinction event, new Anthropocene geological epoch.
- We think that thinking is important to picking a leader, and that thinking works better in adults. But if 5 year olds have the same competence (or some might say lack of it) as adults in picking their leaders, perhaps we should just drop the voting age to say 6 (just to be conservative)? Imagine how great it could be. We could require voting in school, maybe homeroom for middle and high schoolers, and right after the Pledge of Allegence for grade schoolers. The voter turnout would be very high so presidential candidates would have to come to schools and promise better cafeteria meals with this voter block. I can see it now!
- Or perhaps instead of voter ID laws eliminating voters we should eliminate heavy TV viewers from the voter rolls.
- This confirms my reasons for not usually watching the candidates. I strongly prefer to be a data driven voter, looking at what they do first in statistics and policy studies. So I’ve preferred not watching debates, speeches, etc, but instead the analysis of those, or simply read the text. Otherwise it seems they’re judge pulling my emotional triggers. Further evidence of this is the Kennedy Nixon debates where the radio audience gave the node to Nixon while TV views thought Kennedy did a better job (click here for a discussion of that). Of course once I’m sure of the rational basis then I can have fun being emotionally tweaked, so I delighted in watching Clinton’s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech that entwines good facts, reasoning, and strong emotional value appeal.