The Political Significance of Physical Attractiveness

What factors may influence how much media coverage members of the United States Congress receive? Recently a team of researchers examined the role of candidate attractiveness in determining the amount of media coverage elected members of the U.S. Congress obtain. Surprisingly, they found that politicians who were rated as more attractive received more media coverage in terms of television but not radio or print media coverage. More specifically, an increase of one point on an attractiveness rating scale (1-­‐ 10) was associated with 11.62% more appearances on nationally televised media programming. Importantly, this effect was found over and above the influence of such critical factors as political seniority, media-­‐market membership, legislative activity, political ideology, and House or Senate membership.

So why are attractive members of Congress receiving significantly more televised media coverage? Given that the effect of politician attractiveness was only found for televised news coverage, the researchers suggest that this effect is possibly driven by audience expectations or viewers prefer to view attractive legislators. This suggests that perhaps journalists’ beliefs about what  draws high viewership are contributing to this discrepancy in coverage. Alternatively, there may be something about the politicians themselves that make them more newsworthy. For example, perhaps attractiveness is related to another predictor of news coverage such as friendliness. More research is needed to parse why we may find such a strong relationship between candidate appearance and media coverage.

Does this discrepancy in media coverage translate into a greater number of reelections to Congress? The association between politician attractiveness and media coverage has the potential to impact electoral outcomes. In an election year when voters are making tough decisions, media coverage has the potential to sway those voters who are on the fence.

Waismel-­Manor, I., & Tsfati, Y. (2011). Why do better-­looking members of congress receive more television coverage? Political Communication, 28(4), 440-­463.

Is social status hardwired?

Imagine a conversation between two people: Preston Power, the CEO of a prestigious corporation, and Alan Awkward, the assistant to the assistant to the regional manager. It wouldn’t take very long to pick up on the difference in social status between these two individuals even if you had no information about who they were. Body language, the tendency to interrupt, volume of speech, and a host of other nonverbal behaviors automatically cue us in to who is the alpha dog in this scenario. While these behaviors are often viewed as personal choices that we can control, Fei Wang and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggest that poor Mr. Awkward may not be at fault for his plight—his neurons may be to blame.  Continue reading

Music Cognition

A shortened version of this article will appear in the next Psychology in Action Newsletter.

One of the most fascinating and quickly growing subareas of psychology and the cognitive sciences is music cognition, the interdisciplinary study of how the brain processes and perceives music.  Music cognition is driven primarily by the perception of tempo and pitch, as well as the important concept of expectation. Continue reading

Schoolyard Picks: How People Evaluate Friend Potential in Others

We all use a variety of clues to figure out whether a person we’re interacting with is going to like us. After all, being rejected hurts, and we typically would rather not pursue a friendship with someone who might reject us. To determine whether we’re likely to be rejected by a potential friend, we might notice whether we share the same hobbies, whether we dress similarly, or whether the person is acting in a friendly manner to us—making eye contact, that sort of thing.

Recent research by Dr. Jenessa Shapiro takes this process a step further, finding that we pay attention not only to what the potential friend does personally, but also to their own friendships. Shapiro and colleagues presented White college students with a Black potential friend, pictured either alone, with a White friend, or with a Black friend. The idea was that seeing a Black potential friend who has a Black friend might lead people to conclude that the potential friend is uninterested in White friends. Continue reading