Tuesday, 13 November 2012

America votes Obama “fit” for the job

When voting a leader into office what is it you look for in a candidate? It is likely that you want someone with similar ideals to yourself, they should possibly be an assertive talker, and a strong leader too. These and many other factors play important roles in your decision-making but one may surprise you: “which candidate is the most attractive”?

Researchers at the University of Exeter have highlighted that attractiveness could provide an advantage for candidates during a close race for a hotly contested seat. Most recently this research may be applied to the US presidential election. BBC News’ average of national opinion polls prior to the final vote indicated a tight race, with Obama receiving 49% to Romney’s 48%. With such a close competition, small individual factors could give certain candidates the edge. Dr Caitlin Milazzo is in the process of publishing a paper which demonstrates that for hotly contested constituencies the more attractive candidates wins almost 75% of the time. Dr Milazzo tested this work on 153 US participants who were shown 75 pairs of British 2010 general election contestants, and asked to vote which of the pair was the most attractive. The results of these ratings were later matched up with the results from the actual election, and a correlation was found between attractiveness and victory (particularly in the marginal seats). 

With Obama, arguably the more attractive candidate, eventually winning the 2012 US Presidential election, it may prove interesting to speculate why attractiveness might have played a role. The general American public could regard Obama as the more attractive candidate as not only is he more youthful, but he also has a certain “cool factor” - everyone remembers the “he’s a jackass” Kanye West comment, or the swift swatting of a fly mid-interview.

So Obama may be the candidate deemed as the most attractive… but how does this affect a person’s vote? It is possible that when a person is deemed the more attractive then this may activate the reward centres of the brain. Dr Joel Winston and colleagues from UCL have demonstrated that the amygdala and regions of the frontal cortex were activated when volunteers processed faces rated as attractive. The amygdala and frontal cortex regions are linked with the processing of emotions and rewards, and so a person may associate the attractive face with such positive feelings. It seems that facial beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but also the brain!

There is further demonstrable evidence of the more attractive candidate winning in prior big elections. Obama beat John McCain, Tony Blair beat John Major, and Gordon Brown lost his seat to a younger and fresher (albeit with the help of Photoshop on his campaign posters) David Cameron. Perhaps the typical dusty old man look previously synonymous with political leaders is a thing of the past. In a world were celebrities and attractive individuals are idolised, politics may also see a trend which favours the younger and ‘fitter’ candidates.

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