Politicians turn the other cheek

Tony Abbott MP (Liberal Party of Australia)
Tony Abbott MP (Liberal Party of Australia)

Conservative politicians are turning the other cheek – but they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

A Flinders University study has revealed that conservative politicians are more likely to display the left side of the face – known to display emotion more prominently than the right face – than their counterparts on the political left when posing for photographs.

Postdoctoral research fellow Dr Nicole Thomas and colleagues from the School of Psychology’s Brain and Cognition Laboratory examined 1538 official photographs of politicians from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Unites States for an asymmetry in posing.

They found that while politicians show the same leftward posing bias as the general public, across nations, conservatives were more likely to display the left cheek, and those on the political left were more likely to face forward.

Dr Thomas said the study results could have a bearing on the way political campaigns are run.

“There is a view that campaigns that incorporate emotion are more effective because emotion is something that can really draws in voters,” Dr Thomas said.

“There’s some research to suggest that conservative politicians campaign more effectively and that it is this ability to use emotion that may be part of their effectiveness,” she said.

“Our study supports the notion that one way conservative politicians use more emotion is by presenting the left side of the face.”

The phenomenon is more likely to be instinctive rather than deliberate: social attitudes, such as political beliefs, it seems, may be partly hard-wired in the brain.

“Genetics play a part in this. We know that the brain is genetically influenced in such a way that different structures develop in the brains of liberals and conservatives,” Dr Thomas said.

“There’s more driving our behaviour than just growing up and hearing your parents say they support one political party or another.”

The study, published this month in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science), also found that female politicians showed a stronger tendency to face forward than males.

“In my earlier research, women in the general population were more likely to show the left side of the face than men. That wasn’t the case in this study which leads us to suggest that female politicians intuitively face forward and are less likely to make use of emotion in official portraits to avoid being seen as emotional.”

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Corporate Engage Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences News Research School of Psychology Uncategorized

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