New Study at Caltech Says Politicians’ Faces Can Reveal Corruption

Want to know if a politi­cian is cor­rupt? Look at his face.

At least, so says a new study pub­lished Wednesday by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the jour­nal Psychological Science. The study only looked at white male politicians.

According to the web­site Science Daily, peo­ple who are shown pho­tographs of politi­cians they have not pre­vi­ous­ly seen are able to make “bet­ter-than-chance” judge­ments about whether those politi­cians have been con­vict­ed of corruption.

The premise behind the study — that it’s all in a face — may seem bizarre, but Chujun Lin, a co-author of the study and Caltech grad­u­ate stu­dent, begs to dif­fer. “There is no doubt that peo­ple form first impres­sions from faces all the time. For exam­ple, on dat­ing sites peo­ple often reject poten­tial match­es based on pic­tures with­out read­ing the profile.”

The trick, appar­ent­ly, is to look at the width — tech­ni­cal­ly, the width-to-height ratio — of the politician’s face. A pre­vi­ous study con­duct­ed at Brock University in Canada involv­ing hock­ey play­ers found that face width in men is cor­re­lat­ed with aggres­sive behav­ior. Testosterone, a hor­mone asso­ci­at­ed with aggres­sion, can affect many phys­i­cal fea­tures in men, such as fin­ger length and face width.

In the Caltech study, 100 par­tic­i­pants were shown black-and-white pho­tographs of 72 state or fed­er­al politi­cians, half of whom had been con­vict­ed of cor­rup­tion and half of whom had clean records. Participants were asked to rate how cor­rupt­ible, dis­hon­est, self­ish, trust­wor­thy, or  gen­er­ous the politi­cians appeared.

With near­ly 70 per­cent accu­ra­cy, par­tic­i­pants were able to dis­cern which politi­cians were cor­rupt and which were not.

Similar rates of accu­ra­cy were record­ed for politi­cians elect­ed to state and local offices.

Another part of the study sought to deter­mine whether face width was key in estab­lish­ing a politician’s guilt. Researchers dig­i­tal­ly manip­u­lat­ed 150 politi­cians’ pho­tographs and showed the 450 result­ing images, includ­ing the orig­i­nal 150, to par­tic­i­pants who were asked to rate the offi­cials’ per­ceived cor­rup­tion. The wide-faced ver­sions were thought to be more cor­rupt than the thin­ner-faced versions.

The Caltech researchers aren’t say­ing, how­ev­er, that a wide face con­demns a politi­cian to a life of crime.

They do think it’s pos­si­ble that politi­cians who look more cor­rupt may be offered bribes more often. Another pos­si­bil­i­ty is that cor­rupt-look­ing offi­cials may be inves­ti­gat­ed, tried, and con­vict­ed at high­er rates because of their appearance.

The 2016 elec­tion of US President Donald J. Trump seems to have prompt­ed a change in US atti­tudes towards cor­rup­tion. Transparency International’s 2017 US Corruption Barometer revealed that 44 per­cent of Americans believe cor­rup­tion to be ram­pant in the White House, up from 36 per­cent in 2016, and almost 7 in 10 believe the gov­ern­ment is not doing enough to fight cor­rup­tion, up from 5 in 10 in 2016.

New Study at Caltech Says Politicians’ Faces Can Reveal Corruption

Related Posts