Facing down the competition in business and politics

The Economist covers an intriguing study that found the financial success of a company can be largely guessed by making a judgement based on photographs of the chief executives.

Most interestingly, the people doing the guessing weren’t particularly skilled in business or finance, they were undergraduate student volunteers.

And Dr Ambady and Mr Rule were surprised by just how accurate the students’ observations were. The results of their study, which are about to be published in Psychological Science, show that both the students’ assessments of the leadership potential of the bosses and their ratings for the traits of competence, dominance and facial maturity were significantly related to a company’s profits. Moreover, the researchers discovered that these two connections were independent of each other. When they controlled for the ‚Äúpower‚Äù traits, they still found the link between perceived leadership and profit, and when they controlled for leadership they still found the link between profit and power.

These findings suggest that instant judgments by the ignorant (nobody even recognised Warren Buffett) are more accurate than assessments made by well-informed professionals. It looks as if knowing a chief executive disrupts the ability to judge his performance.

Other studies have looked at whether it is possible to judge the success of politicians from their photographs.

Perhaps sadly, it seems it is possible. A study [pdf] published in Evolution and Human Behavior found that face shape could reliably predict voter preference in nine leadership elections from four countries – Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA.

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that photograph-only judgements of competence could also predict the winners in election for US state governor, even when they were flashed on-screen for less than a quarter of a second.

Interestingly, showing people the faces for longer actually changed people’s competency ratings and reduced how well these judgements predicted the election winners.

Link to Economist article ‘Face value’.

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