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.


More Tips: Getting Involved With Undergraduate Research

Here are some additional tips for becoming involved with undergraduate research:

1. Reaching Out to Graduate Teaching Assistants
Do you have a favorite psychology subject course that you have taken? Try talking with the Graduate Student Teaching Assistant of that course to get a better of idea of the kind of research that he or she may be involved in. There’s a good chance that your TA will be involved with research that is related to the content of the course you are interested in. Talking with your TA will give you a better idea of ongoing research in the field.

2. Reaching out to Professors
Do you have a favorite psychology professor? Why don’t you look up their lab website online or even approach them during their office hours to see if they are currently recruiting undergraduate research assistants in their lab? It can’t hurt to inquire about research positions, especially if you are interested in the course material that they teach.
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How effective are political campaign advertisements?

While the media buzz surrounding the 2012 Presidential Election is just starting up, now is as good a time as any to think about how effective political advertisements really are at influencing our candidate choices.  Every election season, political candidates shell out thousands and even millions of dollars on televised campaign advertisements.  But how persuasive are these advertisements really?  Previous scientific research in this area has only been able to look at how well individual’s reports of their media viewing correspond with their voting preferences.  However, a recent study by Gerber, Gimpel, Green, and Shaw (2011) addressed this question in a ground-breaking field experiment.  In the first large scale field experiment of its kind, the researchers were able to manipulate the timing and volume of televised advertisements for the incumbent candidate in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election.  Furthermore, they were able to continually assess voter’s candidate preferences during the campaign season.  It was important that this study be conducted in the field because it is often hard in a laboratory setting to gauge how long-lasting the effects of media exposure are in real world settings. Continue reading