Men with “large” mouths get our vote

PRESS RELEASE           MARCH 14, 2017

The larger the mouth of a male politician, the bigger the chance we will vote for him in an election. Says neuroscientific research agency Alpha.One from Rotterdam.

The perception of success of our male politicians can be positively or negatively influenced by literally enlarging or reducing their mouths using a digital photo editor. No one notices that the portraits are manipulated, but subconsciously it has a significant influence on our perception of the success rate of a (male) person. This perception of success plays a significant role in the choice we make at the voting booth.

"Our research shows that in the political arena the subconscious primitive brain still plays a significant role.", says neuroscientific researcher Dr. Roeland Dietvorst of Alpha.One.

When voting for a political candidate, preferences are being determined by primitive processes in the brain of which we are mostly not aware. The research by Alpha.One shows how physical appearance subconsciously influences our political preferences. As a result, "Male candidates with a large mouth have a bigger chance to receive our vote" says Dietvorst.

After people have participated in the research, they cannot indicate that the face was a trigger for the preference. The finding that enlarging or reducing the mouth subconsciously influences our preferences, shows that intuitive processes, that came into existence thousands of years ago by evolution, still play an important role in how we perceive each other and thus also politicians.

Not with female politicians
When we enlarge the mouths of women optically, the effect is not the same. The effect of a higher perception of success only occurs with males. The explanation of this effect lies in evolution. Chimpanzee alpha males for example, often have larger canines, and a larger mouth helps to show those (intimidating) canines.

Dr. Roeland Dietvorst: “Despite the evolutionary progresss of homo sapiens, our research shows that a significant part of our political preferences are shaped in the same way as those of more primitive primates.”

What does this mean for the upcoming general elections in the Netherlands?
Dr. Roeland Dietvorst: “Objectivity is unfortunately not really suited for people, but there are actions you can take to become more objective. Digital voting guides are a good example that can be used to objectify your political preference. However, the first impression a person makes is persistent and hard to change.“

  • For more information on this research please contact: Dr. Roeland Dietvorst, Scientific Director on +31(0) 6 - 39 56 20 60 or
  • Alpha.One, based in Rotterdam, is a research agency that applies insights and techniques from neuroscience to consumer behavior. Alpha.One is an exclusive research partner of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) in the field of consumer neuroscience.
  • The party leaders and first woman on the list of the 8 largest parties were selected and 8 males and females lower on the list who are less known to the public.
  • The portraits have been manipulated with (Adobe) Photoshop. The mouths were enlarged and reduced 10%. In total 516 participants filled out the survey. Each participant has ranked each politician once.
The research on the effects of mouth sizes is inspired by two studies. The first by the team of Todorov,  they showed that people have a preference for American politicians within 1 second based only on portraits. Fascinating is that based on this preference more then 70% of the outcomes of US congressional elections could be predicted correctly. 

It has been unclear for a long time which facial features triggered this preference. In 2016 Daniel Re and Nicholas Rule published an experiment where the size of the mouth of CEO’s correlated with their perceived successfulness. The larger the mouth, the more successful people think a CEO is. An interesting find is that the size of the mouth of the CEO also positively correlated with the financial results of their organizations.

Scientific References
  • Alexander Todorov, Anesu N. Mandisodza1, Amir Goren, Crystal C. Hall (2005) “Inferences of Competence from Faces Predict Election Outcomes”,  Science Vol 308, Issue 5728
  • Daniel E. Re, Nicholas O. Rule (2015) “The Big Man Has a Big Mouth: Mouth Width Correlates with Perceived Leadership Ability and Actual Leadership Performance”, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 63, Pages 86–93