The Face of the Next Senator

If Senatorial elections were held today in Metro Manila, there is one sure winner whose name does not even appear in any of the recent surveys.

If Vilma Santos ran as a senatorial candidate, even without campaigning, there is no doubt that she will win in Metro Manila. That is because based on our Face Perception Test, a computer-aided experiment to test people’s perception of an individual’s level of warmth and competence, Vilma Santos scores high on both attributes.

But how can a simple experiment measuring a respondent’s fast reactions to a picture of a candidate predict whether that candidate can win an election or not?

It is no secret that we all make quick character judgements based simply on appearance. In fact, according to Willis and Todorov (2006), judgements we make of a person’s character and trait at 100-ms exposure are highly correlated to the judgements we make without time constraints. And social psychologists have long deduced that primitive humans developed a primal, unconscious ability to make two specific kinds of judgments with a high degree of speed and sufficient accuracy: What are the intentions of other people toward me? How capable are they of carrying out those intentions? Or in other words, what is this person’s level of warmth and competence.

Therefore, it is no surprise that we undertake a variety of decisions based on rapid and effortless inferences on appearances --- like for example, who to vote for.

In several studies, participants are shown a picture of a candidate and are asked to judge the photos on one or more traits (i.e. competence, trustworthiness) and these judgements were compared to the outcomes of elections. What these studies have shown were a direct correlation between a candidate judged as competent and them winning an election (Martin, 1978; Ballew and Todorov, 2007; Hall et al., 2009; Todorv et al., 2005)

Now looking again at our study, even if we slice the results into different demographics like socio-economic class, age group, location, we can see that Vilma Santos consistently ranks high on warmth and competence and therefore is definitely a winnable candidate.

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