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Published December 2008 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes


Election outcomes correlate with judgments based on a candidates visual appearance, suggesting that the attributions viewers make based on appearance, so-called thin-slice judgments, influence voting. Yet, it is not known whether the effect of appearance on voting is more strongly influenced by positive or negative attributions, nor which neural mechanisms subserve this effect. We conducted two independent brain imaging studies to address this question. In Study 1, images of losing candidates elicited greater activation in the insula and ventral anterior cingulate than images of winning candidates. Winning candidates elicited no differential activation at all. This suggests that negative attributions from appearance exert greater influence on voting than do positive. We further tested this hypothesis in Study 2 by asking a separate group of participants to judge which unfamiliar candidate in a pair looked more attractive, competent, deceitful and threatening. When negative attribution processing was enhanced (specifically, under judgment of threat), images of losing candidates again elicited greater activation in the insula and ventral anterior cingulate. Together, these findings support the view that negative attributions play a critical role in mediating the effects of appearance on voter decisions, an effect that may be of special importance when other information is absent.

Additional Information

© The Author (2008). Published by Oxford University Press. Received 6 October 2008; Accepted 17 October 2008. Advance Access publication 28 October 2008. The authors wish to thank Jan Glaescher for helpful discussions and for the use of rfxplot. This research was financed in part by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and with support from the National Science Foundation (grant number SES-0134618 to A.R.) and from the National Institutes of Health (to R.A. and M.L.S.).

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