Voting for the right face

Can we predict how many votes political candidates will receive purely from their face?

That was a question asked by Nicholas Rule of Tufts University in Boston. Along with his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Kyoto, he conducted a series of experiments in which naive observers from the US and Japan rated the personality characteristics of candidates in the 2006 election of the US Senate and the 2000 election of Japan’s House of Representatives. Raters judged how competent, dominant, mature, likeable, trustworthy and attractive each candidate appeared.

The researchers found that a combined measure of dominance and facial maturity, which they called the Power Composite, was related to the number of votes the American candidates received. Candidates who appeared more powerful received more votes. The results were the same regardless of whether the raters were American or Japanese.

When Japanese candidates were considered, those who appeared more warm — those who were seen as more likeable and trustworthy — were the ones who received more votes, which suggests that the traits that Japanese and American voters look for in their leaders are different.

Interestingly, candidates didn’t receive more votes if they were seen as more attractive, a fact that I imagine some of the candidates in the upcoming UK elections will find distinctly reassuring.


Rule, N. O., Arnbady, N., Adams, R. B., Ozono, H., Nakashima, S., Yoshikawa, S., & Watabe, M. (2010). Polling the Face: Prediction and Consensus Across Cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(1), 1–15. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the March 2010 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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