Can people detect ideological stance from facial photographs?

Tamsin Saxton, Sophie L. Hart, Lucy V. Desai, Thomas Pollet

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Nonverbal cues are instrumental in animal social interactions, and humans place especial value on facial appearance and displays to predict and interpret others’ behaviours. Several studies have reported that people can judge someone’s political orientation (e.g. Republican vs Democrat) based on facial appearance at greater-than-chance accuracy. This begs the question of the granularity of such judgements. Here, we investigate whether people can judge one aspect of political orientation (attitudes to immigration) based on the facial photographs that politicians use to represent themselves on the European Parliament website. We find no evidence of such ability, and no evidence for an interaction between the judges’ own attitudes to immigration and their accuracy. While many studies report facial manifestations of attitudinal and behavioural proclivities, facial appearance may be a relatively impoverished cue.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-25
JournalHuman Ethology
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2019


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