Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Beautiful politicians win more votes

This is sort of in the same vein as a recent post here:

Beautiful politicians win more votes: study
Beautiful politicians win more votes, according to Australian National University research released today that asked an independent group of ‘beauty raters’ to assess the looks of 286 major party candidates who ran in the 2004 federal election.

The study, conducted by ANU economist Dr Andrew Leigh and University of South Australia student Amy King, found that voters tend to opt for the better-looking candidate.

“Compared to the average-looking political candidate, a candidate at the 84th percentile of the beauty distribution, as judged by our independent raters, receives an extra 1½ to 2 per cent of the vote. In some seats, this is the difference between winning and losing,” Dr Leigh said.

And it isn't really news, is it? After all, people learn at an early age to treat elections as popularity contests. And who is it that wins student elections in high school anyway?

Unfortunately, that's not a good way to judge competence or good government policy. Never has been, but now that televised coverage of politicians and elections is so pervasive...

Perhaps it's worth thinking about the value placed on "beauty" and "good looks" for elected public officials. Here's one thing that Wikipedia says about physical attractiveness:
Prototypicality as beauty

Besides biology and culture, there are many other factors determining physical attractiveness. It is seen that when many faces are combined into a composite image (through computer morphing), people find the resultant image as familiar and attractive, and even more beautiful than the faces that went into it. One interpretation is that this shows an inherent human preference for prototypicality. That is, the resultant face emerges with the salient features shared by most faces, and hence becomes the prototype. The prototypical face and features is therefore perceived as symmetrical and familiar. Apparently, this reveals an "underlying preference for the familiar and safe over the unfamiliar and potentially dangerous"

In other words, people who are considered attractive within a population are those who are most "typical" or "average". Or inversely, least atypical, least different from the largest number of people in the population. People who are considered less attractive have facial features that vary a lot from the norm, such as lips that are too thin or too thick (compared to the average), eyes too far apart or too close together, eyebrows that are too sparse or too bushy.

And what makes these "unattractive" is that they are "unfamiliar and potentially dangerous".

Surprising? Nope. Just not a good way to judge things like competence, ability, common sense, etc. Funny thing is, our culture has sensible maxims like "you can't judge a book by its cover."

But everyone has some tendency to judge by the cover anyhow. It's a decision-making heuristic based on understandable factors.

Just not a good heuristic, because it's based on unanalyzed assumptions that aren't appropriate.


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