Attractiveness VS. Competence in Voting, Jennifer Nagy

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In the scholarly article, “Attractiveness Halo: Why Some Candidates are Perceived more Favorably than Others”, authors Verhulst, Lodge, and Lavine explore the reasons why some political candidates are perceived more favorably based upon snap judgments. The authors state their agreement with previous research that asserts that in the case of politicians, quick assessments about a politician’s competence as a leader based upon side-by-side snapshots of them and their competitor was more effective in judging real election outcomes than “judgments based upon attractiveness, familiarity, age, or babyfacedness.” Consequently, previous research undermined the hypothesis of the halo effect by using a measurement of competence, rather than attractiveness. Though the authors agree with these findings, they hypothesize that spontaneous assessments of attractiveness and familiarity happen before the voter attributes levels of competence to the politician. The research does not refute the validity of the competence judgment research, but instead focuses on the impressions and processing that takes place before the attribution of competence to a candidate. These prior judgments based upon attractiveness further underline the legitimacy of the Halo Effect.

Verhulst, Lodge, and Lavine reorganize and reanalyze data collected by Olivola and Todorov’s 2010 study to arrive at their findings. They discovered that the attractiveness of the candidates lead the study participants to see some as more competent than others and more likely to win an election. The findings assert that the initial appraisal of a candidate’s image and relative attractiveness led to perceptions of competence. In short, the more attractive a candidate, the more competent his constituents perceived him/her to be. Accordingly, the higher the perception of competence in a candidate, the more likely they would be to win an election.

The findings of Verhulst, Lodge, and Lavine vividly illustrate the power of the Halo Effect upon our nonverbal communication and perceptions of one another. The “what is beautiful is good” theory applies here as well. Though participants attempted to rationalize their unconscious decision on which candidate is better through judgments based on their probable “competence”, ultimately the participants were affected by their initial, quick appraisals of the candidate’s attractiveness and familiarity. Our textbook underlines this exact issue through its discussion about the Halo Effect. In professional contexts, this rule applies as well. People who are perceived as good-looking or attractive are not only more likely to be hired for a job, but it is also more likely that they will earn more by at least 4 percent, as compared to someone who is not deemed as attractive or competent.

I find these results to be consistent with my own experiences.  When I was hired for my current job, my previous boss interviewed me for the job and asked the basic interview questions: “When were you faced with a challenge, and how did you overcome it?” etc. A few months after I had been working for this company, one of my co-workers asked if I noticed anything about the people my manager had hired. It was pointed out to me that all of the people my boss had hired, with only one exception, were short, brunette women. I don’t believe this was intentional, but perhaps this might illustrate the influence of the Halo Effect and crux of study’s assertion in a professional setting. We are all influenced unconsciously by our own perceptions of someone’s attractiveness, and through these perceptions, we make snap judgments about them.


Verhulst, B., Lodge, M., & Lavine, H. (2010). The Attractiveness Halo: Why Some Candidates are Perceived More Favorably than Others. Journal Of Nonverbal Behavior34(2), 111-117. doi:10.1007/s10919-009-0084-z


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