A picture is worth a thousand words…

January 31, 2008 — Leave a comment

Ok. I admit it. I’m addicted to The Economist, which I believe is the best print newspaper in the world. Seriously. Thanks to American Airlines who provided me with a complimentary subscription in return for some frequent flyer miles I had sitting around.   The latest edition featured a story, “Face Value”, that caught my eye. Read it here. Really it was the sub-heading: “what the boss looks like determines how he performs.” From the article: 

Dr Ambady and Mr Rule showed 100 undergraduates the faces of the chief executives of the top 25 and the bottom 25 companies in the Fortune 1,000 list. Half the students were asked how good they thought the person they were looking at would be at leading a company and half were asked to rate five personality traits on the basis of the photograph. These traits were competence, dominance, likeability, facial maturity (in other words, did the individual have an adult-looking face or a baby-face) and trustworthiness.”       

All of the photos were of white males, which had the effect of controlling for race and gender. Here’s the result:

“…Dr Ambady and Mr Rule were surprised by just how accurate the students’ observations were. The results of their study, which are about to be published in Psychological Science, show that both the students’ assessments of the leadership potential of the bosses and their ratings for the traits of competence, dominance and facial maturity were significantly related to a company’s profits. Moreover, the researchers discovered that these two connections were independent of each other. When they controlled for the “power” traits, they still found the link between perceived leadership and profit, and when they controlled for leadership they still found the link between profit and power.These findings suggest that instant judgments by the ignorant (nobody even recognised Warren Buffett) are more accurate than assessments made by well-informed professionals. It looks as if knowing a chief executive disrupts the ability to judge his performance.”   

This suggests to me that it is not totally absurd that seemingly subjective impressions about people (e.g., presidential candidates) meaningfully inform our choices and relationships. However, as a theological observation, we must always be aware of the ways that the Fall (the entrance of personal and systemic sin to the human conditions) can shape our impressions in ways that are negative and harmful. In this sense, the results of the above study are less than helpful.

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