Saturday, March 14, 2009

What People . . . See

Fascinating study in the latest Public Opinion Quarterly (abstract here) that finds facial similarity between a candidate and a voter can influence evaluations of that candidate. In other words, if someone looks like me, I'm gonna like 'em.

Now this rests on familiar theoretical groundwork of similarity, but it's a very cool take. The researchers morphed a candidate's face with an experimental respondent's face (or someone else's). Yup, they liked the morphed face that looks like them most. This works best on unfamiliar candidates, only a little on familiar candidates, but it still works once you set aside party ID and policy preferences.
Thus, the evidence across the three studies suggests that even in high-profile elections, voters prefer candidates high in facial similarity, but most strongly with unfamilar candidates.

Very very neat. It's hard to make practical use of this, obviously, since a politician can't very well morph a jillion different pix of them self with all their different potential voters. But I think there are some good mass comm studies here. I'd like to run an experiment with a blogger's web site, with the blogger's photo, but morphed either to match or not match an experimental subject's own face. Can we get them to like a blogger more even if that blogger writes about stuff they really don't like, or only moderately like? This has some great PR research possibilities.

Okay you budding PhDweeb types, get to work.

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