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Undecided? You’ll Probably Vote For Someone Who…

…looks like you, research shows. So if you are leaning toward one political (or marital?) candidate or have not yet decided, here’s how you might be influenced. “Morphing faces”- based research demonstrates your instinctive tendency to like the person who looks right – like you.

Smart Mobs author and Stanford professor, Howard Rheingold has been tracking the research for several years as it has appeared in peer-researched journals. According to Rheingold, “The finding is simple — using the same morphing software you can buy online for twenty or thirty dollars, researchers morphed subjects’ faces into the photographs of political candidates. Without knowing that their own faces had been incorporated, potential voters who either weakly favored one candidate or had not yet made a decision decided to choose the candidate that subliminally resembled themselves — even though they were not told about the morphing until after they made their choices. Candidates can be made to look more caucasian, asian, etc. — depending, I presume, on the precinct:

…a Bailenson experiment done before the 2004 election in collaboration with Shanto Lyengar, director of Stanford’s Political Communication Lab, partially morphed the photos of undecided voters with those of either George Bush or John Kerry. Voters preferred the candidate they’d been morphed into—but could not consciously detect that the photo contained their own face.”

While it is not surprising to learn that we tend to like the people who look most familiar to us, this finding has huge implications in the presidential campaign. Not only do we have a black and a woman candidate but there’s an extreme variation in the facial types of all candidates. In this Stanford magazine article, see “Electable Like Me” under the section “One last Experiment.”

Back to how this finding affects us in everyday life, here are two additional insights:

Peter Kaminski suggests this additional possibility: “I’ll bet familial similarity is similarly strong as similarity to the subject her/himself, and that familial similarity would be stronger than ethnic similarity. So I wonder how useful morphing per precinct/ethnicity would be. It would be interesting to see results from familial morphs — sibling/same gender, sibling/opposite gender, mother, father, etc. And partner/spouse.”

Alex Halvais predicts that, “Faces that approach an eigenface are more likely to be judged attractive. The face that contains all faces is probably the most electable face of all.”

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