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Baby-Face Harper
24/07/2005

From a short piece in the July 25 issue of the New Yorker, by Ben McGrath:

According to a new study published in Science, first impressions of candidates' own faces may well be the determining factor in most elections. Specifically, what voters seem to be looking for -- and discerning, in as little as a second -- is an indication of competence, as distinct from attractiveness or trustworthiness or intelligence. The study was design by a Princeton psychology professor named Alexander Todorov, who analyzed several hundred recent congressional races. He found that simply by flashing a pair of head shots before subjects' eyes and asking them to identify the face that displayed the most competence, he could predict winners with about seventy-per-cent accuracy.

But is competence revealed in the cheekbones, the jawline, the fullness of the lips? An article that accompanied Todorov's study, written by Joann M. Montepare and Leslie Zebrowitz, the author of "Reading Faces: Window to the Soul?," suggests an answer: voters perceive "baby-facedness" (broad cheeks, small chin, big eyes) as a sign of incompetence, whereas "facial maturity" (jutting chin, furrowed brow, angular nose) connotes capability. "When images of former US presidents Reagan and Kennedy were morphed to increase baby-facedness," the article says, "their perceived dominance, strength, and cunning decreased significantly." Joe Lieberman's crags and Arnold Schwarzenegger's squared-off mug, in other words, bode well; the billowing chins of Al Sharpton and the cherubic cheeks of John Edwards to not.

Just thought that some Canadian politics-watchers might be interested in this. I'd have to say that Stephen Harper is the most baby-faced of the bunch, thought Martin and Layton also pale in comparison to such specimens of "facial maturity" as Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney.

On the other hand, I'm not sure it is Harper's competence that is usually questioned, except, perhaps, his competence at running a political campaign.


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