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60-Second Science

We Like a Winning Face

A study published recently in the journal Science shows that we tend to choose leaders based on their appearance. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

We like to think we’re pretty sophisticated when it comes to voting for politicians. Oh, sure, we’ve all heard that the taller guy usually wins. But we’re being smart—we consider their policies and positions.

Or maybe not. Researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland say our decisions are often based on appearance—and that we’re no different from children. The finding appears in the February 27 issue of the journal Science.

Scientists took photos of the winner and the runner up from a 2002 election in France. They showed the two photos to people in Switzerland who hadn’t heard of either candidate. They asked—who do you think would be the most competent?

Well, most study participants chose the actual winner. Then it was time for the kids. More than 600 children played a game involving a computer-simulated boat trip. They were asked which person they’d prefer to captain the ship. And most of the kids also chose the actual election winner.

Study authors say they don’t know which specific facial cues kids and grown-ups are using to make their decisions. Voting is one of democracies most important civic duties. But for a lot of voters, it looks like it’s about liking looks. 

—Cynthia Graber

 

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