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Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images

Mattes, Kyle and Spezio, Michael and Kim, Hackjin and Todorov, Alexander and Adolphs, Ralph and Alvarez, R. Michael (2010) Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images. Political Psychology, 31 (1). pp. 41-58. ISSN 0162-895X.

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Conventional wisdom, and a growing body of behavioral research, suggests that the nonverbal image of a candidate influences voter decision making. We presented subjects with images of political candidates and asked them to make four trait judgments based solely on viewing the photographs. Subjects were asked which of the two faces exhibited more competence, attractiveness, deceitfulness, and threat, which are arguably four of the most salient attributes that can be conveyed by faces. When we compared our subjects' choices to the actual election outcomes, we found that the candidates chosen as more likely to physically threaten the subjects actually lost 65% of the real elections. As expected, our findings support the conclusions of Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, and Hall (2005) by showing a positive correlation between the competence judgments and the real election outcomes. Surprisingly, attractiveness was correlated with losing elections, with the effect being driven by faces of candidates who looked politically incompetent yet personally attractive. Our findings have implications for future research on negative political communication, as they suggest that both threatening first impressions and fleeting impressions of attractiveness can harm a candidate's electoral chances.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Alvarez, R. Michael0000-0002-8113-4451
Additional Information:© 2009 International Society of Political Psychology. This research was supported in part by a CBIC Discovery Grant, with funding derived in part from The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Caltech Brain Imaging CenterUNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Elections; Fear; Competence; Campaigning; Candidate images; Political behavior
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20100216-094805100
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:17478
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:17 Feb 2010 00:02
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:18

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