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Thin-Slice Decisions Do Not Need Faces to be Predictive of Election Outcomes

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Abstract

Rapid decisions about political candidates, made solely on the basis of candidate appearance, associate with real electoral outcomes. A prevailing interpretation is that these associations result from heuristic cognitive processing of cues from the face to yield a judgment about the candidate, processing that is shared by both voters and experimental participants. Here, we report findings suggesting that nonfacial aspects of a candidate's appearance are important cues for voter decision making. We asked participants to look at pairs of candidate images and decide (a) whom to vote for (SimVote), (b) who looks more physically threatening (Threat), and (c) who looks more competent to hold congressional office (Competence). When participants saw only the candidates' faces, there was no association between their decisions and electoral outcomes, except for Threat. Yet when participants saw the candidate images with the faces removed, there was a strong association between their decisions and voters' decisions, for all decision types. This suggests that the appearance-related heuristics that some voters use to guide their decisions may include mental schemas for processing appearance cues other than those associated with facial features. Such schema-based processing has implications for understanding the neurobiological system underlying thin-slice decisions from appearance alone.

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