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Published July 10, 2017 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Cultural effects on the association between election outcomes and face-based trait inferences


How competent a politician looks, as assessed in the laboratory, is correlated with whether the politician wins in real elections. This finding has led many to investigate whether the association between candidate appearances and election outcomes transcends cultures. However, these studies have largely focused on European countries and Caucasian candidates. To the best of our knowledge, there are only four cross-cultural studies that have directly investigated how face-based trait inferences correlate with election outcomes across Caucasian and Asian cultures. These prior studies have provided some initial evidence regarding cultural differences, but methodological problems and inconsistent findings have complicated our understanding of how culture mediates the effects of candidate appearances on election outcomes. Additionally, these four past studies have focused on positive traits, with a relative neglect of negative traits, resulting in an incomplete picture of how culture may impact a broader range of trait inferences. To study Caucasian-Asian cultural effects with a more balanced experimental design, and to explore a more complete profile of traits, here we compared how Caucasian and Korean participants' inferences of positive and negative traits correlated with U.S. and Korean election outcomes. Contrary to previous reports, we found that inferences of competence (made by participants from both cultures) correlated with both U.S. and Korean election outcomes. Inferences of open-mindedness and threat, two traits neglected in previous cross-cultural studies, were correlated with Korean but not U.S. election outcomes. This differential effect was found in trait judgments made by both Caucasian and Korean participants. Interestingly, the faster the participants made face-based trait inferences, the more strongly those inferences were correlated with real election outcomes. These findings provide new insights into cultural effects and the difficult question of causality underlying the association between facial inferences and election outcomes. We also discuss the implications for political science and cognitive psychology.

Additional Information

© 2017 Lin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Received: January 28, 2017; Accepted: June 22, 2017; Published: July 10, 2017. Data Availability Statement: All data generated from the laboratory experiments include participants' judgments about the stimuli and response time can be accessed at https://osf.io/qx54t/?view_only=f504dcb528aa4546a2b01ee9e54f72b3. This work was supported by Discretionary Caltech research funds. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. We thank Nicholas Rule, Jinkyung Na, and Alice O'Toole for sharing candidate images; Shinsuke Shimojo for sharing facilities; Lynn Paul, Ben Gillen, and Robert Sherman for helpful conversations; Duk Gyoo Kim, Euncheol Shin, and Han Seo for subject recruitment; Daw-An Wu and Shuo Wang for technology support; and Barbara Estrada for administrative support. Author Contributions: Conceptualization: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Data curation: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Formal analysis: Chujun Lin, R. Michael Alvarez. Funding acquisition: Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Investigation: Chujun Lin. Methodology: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Project administration: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Resources: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Software: Chujun Lin. Supervision: Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Validation: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Visualization: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez. Writing ± original draft: Chujun Lin. Writing ± review & editing: Chujun Lin, Ralph Adolphs, R. Michael Alvarez.

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Published - journal.pone.0180837.pdf

Supplemental Material - S1Table.pdf

Supplemental Material - S2Table.pdf


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