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Politicians with glasses get more votes

Study at the Social Cognition Center Cologne compares the fictive success of candidates with and without glasses in election experiments

Brille auf einem Tisch

Photo: / Free-Photos

The individual faces of politicians influence voter approval and the results of political elections. A study conducted by Alexandra Fleischmann and Joris Lammers at the University of Cologne’s Social Cognition Center again confirmed this finding. The research results will soon appear in the journal Social Psychology.  

After empirical evidence that people with so-called ‘baby faces’ – i.e. a round faces with low cheekbones and a smile – are less likely to get elected than those with prominent facial features, the team has now examined the influence of glasses on voter approval. ‘We were particularly interested in this effect because, in contrast to facial physiognomy, it is much easier to manipulate – anyone can put on glasses’, says Alexandra Fleischmann, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral researcher in the working group of Joris Lammers.

For the study, the psychologists manipulated images of Swedish politicians using an image processing programme to show them with and without glasses. The experiment participants were then asked to decide whether they would vote for the person or not. ‘The people with glasses came across as more competent and were elected more readily. Surprisingly, we also saw this effect frankly told the participants that the politician only put on the glasses in order to appear more competent,’ says Fleischmann.

In several experiments, the psychologists also investigated in which situations glasses have a greater influence, whether glasses promote electoral success regardless of party affiliation and whether glasses in different cultures (USA, India) help to achieve electoral success. In addition, the researchers examined whether the greater electoral success of people wearing glasses is due to their looking smarter or more likeable.

Fleischmann: ‘In all our studies in Western cultures, eyeglasses increased (fictitious) electoral success. Especially in times of peace, voters regard intelligence as an important characteristic of politicians. Even if there is a threat of war, eyeglasses do not hurt – although dominance is regarded as more important here. It was interesting to see, however, that glasses have no influence on electoral success in India’, says the psychologist. Other studies have shown that people in India – in contrast to the USA – do not associate glasses with intelligence. ‘In India, only a small proportion of the population wears glasses. Presumably, eyeglasses only help if they are widespread in a society and associated with intelligence. But in the West, politicians could try it with glasses. The investment may be worth it’, says Fleischmann.