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Sunday Aug 28

About Face

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Written by Galia Myron Monday, 01 October 2012 09:02

Republican ladies have more stereotypically feminine faces than Democratic gals.

Are your political views written all over your face? Perhaps, says research examining the relationship between sex-typical facial features and political affiliation. Republican women were more likely to have stereotypically feminine faces than their Democratic counterparts, and the more conservative their views, the more exaggerated the effect, say UCLA researchers Colleen Carpinella, and Kerri L. Johnson, Ph.D.

“Prior research has established that people are above chance in deciding whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican,” Carpinella, a graduate student in psychology, tells demodirt.com. “However, this prior work was unable to specify how people make these judgments.”

Gendered facial appearance, she notes, plays a critical role in drawing such conclusions. 

Initially predicting that both Republican men and women would appear more gender-typical than their Democratic peers, the team was surprised to find that this was only partially true. Examining the faces of the U.S. House of Representatives, Carpinella and Johnson found that while male Republicans’ faces did not read as particularly masculine, their female cohorts’ features were highly feminine.

“This is consistent with conservatives’ endorsement of strict gender norms, especially for women,” Carpinella says.

Female politicians whose faces were less stereotypically feminine were more likely to have more liberal voting records, and were more likely to be Democrat.

Using a computer modeling program to strictly assess facial features, the researchers excluded possibly mitigating factors like makeup, hairstyles, and jewelry.

The relationship between political views and adherence to sex-typical facial features is so strong, the researchers say, that undergraduate students who were unaware of politicians’ political views were able to identify their affiliations at an accuracy greater than chance. The more the politician promoted laws that adhere to traditional feminine roles, the stronger the accuracy of these predictions.

“I suppose we can call it the ‘Michelle Bachmann effect,’” said Johnson, an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology, in a public statement.

The results are important, especially as the race to White House heats up, because they indicate what a key role the sex-typicality of politicians’ appearance plays in how voters perceive their political stances.

“These findings are consistent with broad stereotypes of the U.S. political system where Democrats are stereotyped to endorse policies that diminish gender disparities--[for example], salary equity, abortion rights--and Republicans are stereotyped as endorsing policies that bolster more traditional sex-roles--[for example], military spending, national defense,” Carpinella maintains. 

Voters often “use shortcuts” to assess candidates, she adds, noting that even gender-typicality of politicians’ faces can induce bias.

“With the advent of television advertising, the process by which political candidates’ physical appearance impacts how they perceived is especially important to understand,” she explains.

Future studies, Carpinella says, will focus on how the gendered nature of a politician’s appearance may relate to judgments of his or her political competence—that relate to electoral outcomes—and real-world political success once elected.



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