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study: 'Feminine' faces win elections


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Photo:  BBC

Could Hillary Clinton's face influence her political success?
 
Dartmouth University researchers have found that female political candidates with more "feminine" facial features are more likely to win races for political office than women with more masculine characteristics.
 
"Forget the firm handshake or the barnstorming speech," writes US News & World Report's Jamie Stiehm. "What matters upfront is how a candidate looks, new social psychology research suggests, from the neck up."
 
During the study, nearly 300 participants from around the US were shown the faces of candidates for gubernatorial and Senate general election races from 1998 to 2010. They were then asked to use a mouse to select whether the faces were male or female. (A video of the survey process can be viewed here.)
 
Using mouse-tracking software, the researchers were able to determine how decisively the survey subjects pointed toward one response or the other.
 
According to a press release accompanying the study, which appears in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science:
 
The results showed that the more participants were drawn to select the male response when categorising the gender of a female politician's face, the less likely she was to win her election…
In other words, female politicians with more feminine features tend to win elections, while those with more masculine features tend to lose. The mouse-tracking technique further revealed that whether a female politician was going to win or lose an election could be predicted within just 380 milliseconds after participants were exposed to her face.
 
Not only that, but the more conservative the state, the greater the advantage the feminine candidate had over the less-feminine one
 
"Rock-ribbed conservative areas tend to place a heavier emphasis on traditional femininity in electing women, if they elect women at all," writes Stiehm.  Dartmouth Prof Jon Freeman, the study's senior author and developer of the mouse-tracking software, explains why the study is useful:
 
Individuals are highly sensitive to gendered facial cues, and these cues are processed within only milliseconds after seeing another's face. It's important to examine how facial cues could inadvertently affect female politicians' electoral success, especially given the possibility of a female US president in the near future and the rising number of women in Congress.
 

BBC, 21/05/2014

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