Baby-faced Biases

The Times of London highlights some interesting research about voter preferences:

Psychologists in the United States have discovered that voters tend to judge politicians with more immature features as less competent, and thus tend to favour opponents with a more grown-up appearance.

Baby-faced politicians, it turns out, are out of luck. But hey, maybe voters “gut feelings” aren’t entirely awry; maybe it’s the case that leaders with immature features do tend to be, on average, less competent. After all, in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, Blink, the author laments the fact that CEOs tend to be taller than the average person, and concludes that human “heuristics”—short-cuts used to make judgments about people—are leading us astray into groundless biases. But is the “tall CEO” bias necessarily a grave and mortal error? It’s possible, after all, that taller people are, on average, more likely to have grown up being taller than their peers, and hence more confident, more assertive, etc. That’s just a wild guess, but it’s certainly possible.

So what about baby-faced politicians? Well, Alex Tabarrok notes an earlier set of studies by the same researchers showing that “babyfaced men are actually more intelligent, better educated, more assertive and apt to win more military medals than their mature-looking counterparts.” In this case, then, it looks like our heuristics actually are leading us astray, perhaps leading us to choose less competent leaders. Needless to say, that’s not a good thing.


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