The Surprising Effect of Facial Appearance on Political Decision-Making

Next time you prepare to head to the polls, know that throughout campaign season you will take in a sea of political information that is too wide and too deep for anyone to process completely, but do not feel overwhelmed. The trick is to obtain sufficient political sophistication so that cognitive heuristics serve you well, rather than lead you astray. For those who have some familiarity with the political environment, heuristics actually lead to higher quality voting decisions (Lau & Redlawsk, 2001). Instead of turning to candidate appearance, sophisticated voters choose organizational endorsements and ideological schemas as cues to guide their voting. These short-cuts are still cognitive heuristics, conserving both time and mental energy, but they capitalize on the knowledge of invested others, making them more reliable indicators of a candidate’s competency and political inclinations. You can easily discover a candidate’s organizational support with a quick internet search: campaign websites often tout their candidate’s endorsements, and interest groups are generally eager to publicize their positions. In addition, you can develop your own political expertise on a set of specific issues, making it easy for you to recall your stance on these points. When your own policy attitudes are readily accessible, you are more likely to translate your beliefs into behavior and vote by issue (Goren, 1997). So, take time to review candidates’ endorsements and challenge yourself to learn where candidates stand on issues you care about, such as education, health care, or global warming. By becoming familiar with the policies behind politicians who seek election, you can form a judgment, and cast a vote that best reflects your vision for the future of your country.


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