At their most influential levels elections can have the power to change the world, witness the sweeping changes that the new American president has ushered in. As a result those candidates that we elect are chosen based on careful consideration of all the issues, reflection on their policies and an understanding of the impact that will come about based on those choices. Or are they? We all like to think that we make these decisions as rational thinking adults but recent research may call that certainty into question. A study published in February this year and conducted by John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland looked at election results by using children. Specifically they showed children pictures of election candidates in the French parliamentary elections as part of a game. At the end of the game the children were asked which person they would prefer to captain their boat. The children’s choices accurately matched the outcomes of the actual elections.

Adults that were unaware of the significance of the faces in the photos were asked to rate them based on whether they looked competent, these results also tracked the election outcomes. This research seems to raise two important questions, first why do we seem to base our decisions on such simple criteria in such a complex situation and second do the facial features of a person accurately represent the deeper personality characteristics such as honesty, competence, reliability and intelligence? The answer to the first may lie in our tenancy to rely on simple mental shortcuts when we are faced with situations that involve a large amount of complex data. These shortcuts are referred to as heuristics and can help us navigate our increasingly complicated lives without going into a mental meltdown.

The second does not currently seem to be known, but we may be able to find out, to take part in a study that may partly answer this question go Here. In the meantime perhaps elections should be held with bags over the candidates faces? In some cases, couldn’t hurt.

Pictured are the leading candidates in a French parliamentary election, guess who won?

Which is more competent?
Which is more competent?