Competence in Appearance – Who are you voting for?

If you were following US news around November 4th, you would know that it was the Midterm Elections. If you were like 36% of the US population, you would have participated in the vote. If you were like me, you would have voted for the first time.


But do you know who those people are you voted for?


How does one decide who to vote for?




If you think that you vote for your House, Senate, or even your President, based on your perception of their competence…well, you’re partly correct. Psychology research suggests that voters based their decisions on how competent the candidate…LOOKS.


Furthermore, they suggest that voters reached their conclusion in less than 1 second.


Psychologist Alexander Todorov conducted experiments asking people to rate “How competent do you think [this person in the picture] is?”


These pictures were actual candidates in the Senate elections for 2000,2002, and 2004.


He found that judging the competence of a candidate’s appearance predicts 66-73% of the actual electoral results.




Todorov, and other psychologists after him, have conducted variations of this study and found that competence is the single, most predictable attribute of the actual results.


This can be categorized as what Nobel-prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, refers to as “thinking fast” as opposed to “thinking slow” (in his book – Thinking Fast and Slow).



Some decisions, we really just don’t put much thought into it – think: green light signals GO.


Other decisions, we put a lot more thought into – think: what do I want to do after college graduation?


It is a little worrisome to think that we are choosing our political leaders (or any other leaders, for that matter) based on their looks. How competent they seem in pictures does not reflect how competent they really are on the job. If you think you’ll be affected by looks, then stay away from seeing their faces and focus on interpreting information that is tied to their real abilities.


Perhaps something to keep in mind before you cast your next vote.








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