Mirror mirror, on the wall
Who will make most money of all…
Aaaaahhhh, if only there was a way to know. Well, funny you should ask, because, truly, this is just about enough to make you sign up for plastic surgery or, as in the slightly bizarre case of Kerry Campbell, inject your 8 year old with Botox. Maybe we can tell after all.
Now while this Botox article in The Sun was nonsense*, there is more to this whole thing than beauty pageants and wannabe mothers living vicariously through their children’s acquired aspirations. What can we tell by looking?
Books and their covers
We all know that we do, in fact, judge books by their covers. We say that first impressions count. We say that you should dress well, smile, have a firm handshake, make good eye contact, brush your teeth, and always wear clean underwear.
We judge tall people as more powerful, we say that blondes have more fun.
We say that women make judgments about other people in the first 6 seconds of meeting them. Men, by contrast, take up to an agonizing 10 seconds. (That’s another whole blog just there, right?) And we know, don’t we, that people whose eyes are too close together, as every picture book illustrator knows, must be a criminal. But what do facial features tell us? According to Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambadi, something remarkable.
Lawyers and profits
Rule says that inferences from faces can predict important real-world outcomes. What he and Ambadi did was to study a group of lawyers, to see if there was any correlation between how they looked, and how successful they were.
More specifically, the lawyers were managing partners of their law firms, and success was measured by the profitability of their law firms, as reported in public accounts. Would there be anything in the faces of these lawyers that would tell us how successful they were? And if there was, could we apply that knowledge elsewhere?
Side note: there was no investigation into closeness of lawyers’ eyes, criminality and profitability. Intuitively, you know there’s something there…
Warmth vs power
Facial features as a field of study is fascinating. In this instance, they measured traits such as likeability and trustworthiness, which could be grouped under the general concept of warmth.
Dominance and maturity together were seen as radiating power. Attractiveness, too, was scored. And think about it for a moment. What traits would you expect to find in a the managing partner of a law firm? Maybe you’d want maturity and dominance because it suggests that they’d be a competent lawyer, able to handle the rough and tumble, thrust and parry of the legal profession.
By contrast, maybe you’d prefer the warmth factors in your doctor, someone who can put you at ease but in whom you have trust to get it right.
Attractiveness is, all by itself, fascinating. We judge attractive people as generally good, and more trustworthy than less attractive people, while good looking people will admit they get away with more because of their looks. There’s a halo effect that goes with being good-looking.
So what about the lawyers
Rule and Ambadi researched the top 100 law firms in 2007, and then sourced photos of the managing partners. 73 people were judging the photos on criteria such as likeability and trustworthiness, and scoring them out of 7, with a score of 7 indicating the highest level of that trait.
Turns out that there was remarkable consistency in what people thought, with most people comfortably identifying the most profitable partners, simply from their photos.
How did they do it? What was it about the photos, about the features they were examining, that led people to identify the most successful partners?
They agreed on the qualities of dominance and facial maturity.
But here’s the thing
And this is when you reach for the botox…
For fully half of the managing partners, Rule and Ambadi sourced an old, college yearbook photo. These were, on average, photos that were 33 years old.
And you know what?
It didn’t matter. Not a shred.
The same predictors held. Rule says that if you knew absolutely nothing about law firms, except, that is, for what the faces of their managing partners or leaders looked like when they were in college, you could pretty accurately predict their firms’ profits today.
Looks like you can judge a boss by their cover – at least in law firms.
But it gets curious when you take it further**. Politicians judged as competent by television viewers, in that they were seen as physically attractive and mature, were also more successful at the polls. Vote for the good-looking politicians! Appearance accurately predicts electoral success.
Competent looking CEOs earn more than less-competent looking CEOs, but in that case, looks did not predict company profitability – only personal profitability.
So here’s the take home bit
Get your kid, line them up, and take a stab at how they look. If they have the makings of dominance and maturity, make them study law.
If they are mature and attractive, they could enjoy a good career in politics. Failing that, even if the company doesn’t do well, they can always be a high-earning CEO, proof that, even for big jobs, and despite all the rhetoric, looks matter!
Now where’s that botox…
Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat
Dominance, maturity, attractiveness
What do you think?
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- She’s Kelly in the photos, but Kerry in the text
- There’s no needle in the syringe
- It’s the wrong kind of syringe anyway
- It’s in The Sun
**Elected in 100 milliseconds: Appearance Based Trait Inferences and Voting
Christopher Y. Olivola and Alexander Todorov