A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes

Michael L. Spezio, Antonio Rangel, Ramon Michael Alvarez, John P. O'Doherty, Kyle Mattes, Alexander Todorov, Hackjin Kim, Ralph Adolphs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations

Abstract

Election outcomes correlate with judgments based on a candidate's visual appearance, suggesting that the attributions viewers make based on appearance, so-called thin-slice judgments, influence voting. Yet, it is not known whether the effect of appearance on voting is more strongly influenced by positive or negative attributions, nor which neural mechanisms subserve this effect. We conducted two independent brain imaging studies to address this question. In Study 1, images of losing candidates elicited greater activation in the insula and ventral anterior cingulate than images of winning candidates. Winning candidates elicited no differential activation at all. This suggests that negative attributions from appearance exert greater influence on voting than do positive. We further tested this hypothesis in Study 2 by asking a separate group of participants to judge which unfamiliar candidate in a pair looked more attractive, competent, deceitful and threatening. When negative attribution processing was enhanced (specifically, under judgment of threat), images of losing candidates again elicited greater activation in the insula and ventral anterior cingulate. Together, these findings support the view that negative attributions play a critical role in mediating the effects of appearance on voter decisions, an effect that may be of special importance when other information is absent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-352
Number of pages9
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Volume3
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Keywords

  • Faces
  • Political science
  • Social cognition
  • Trait judgment
  • Voting

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  • Cite this

    Spezio, M. L., Rangel, A., Alvarez, R. M., O'Doherty, J. P., Mattes, K., Todorov, A., Kim, H., & Adolphs, R. (2008). A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 3(4), 344-352. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsn040