A PRETTY face rather than policy helps women politicians win votes, according to a new study.
Researchers found the success of female election candidates could be predicted by their facial features – especially in conservative areas where women with more feminine faces tend to do better at the ballot box.
The researchers said their results did not mean a supermodel would be entering 10 Downing Street any time soon. However, they do suggest women’s electoral success requires a delicate balance between voters’ perception of traditional femininity and political competence.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, used software called MouseTracker that was developed by the study’s senior author, Dr Jon Freeman, a director of the social cognitive and neural sciences laboratory at Dartmouth College in the United States.
Researchers tracked the computer mouse movements of nearly 300 participants who were shown politicians’ faces and asked to categorise them as having “male” or “female” features. The results showed that the more participants who were drawn to select the male response when categorising the gender of a female politician’s face, the less likely she was to win.
But while women with more masculine features would tend to lose elections, female politicians with more feminine features would be more likely to win.
The mouse-tracking technique further revealed that whether a female politician was going to win or lose an election could be predicted within 380 milliseconds after participants were exposed to her face.
Dr Freeman said: “We show that subtle uncertainty during the initial processing of a face’s gender predicts the electoral success or failure of female politicians, and this is a unique effect not explained by perceived competence or attractiveness.
“A female politician’s success was related to how feminine or masculine her face was perceived less than one half-second after its initial exposure, suggesting the way a face’s gender is rapidly processed may translate into real-world outcomes.”
The effects became more pronounced as the conservatism of the study group increased, which supports previous research indicating that conservatives may be less tolerant of uncertainty and place more of an emphasis on traditional gender roles.