Project Details


This project seeks to determine how first impressions based on physical appearance influence subsequent political learning and decision-making. Extant research has found that appearance heuristics, or assumptions about someone's abilities, character or personality traits based on his or her appearance, are commonly used 'information shortcuts' employed to simplify the process of making a decision. Evidence from existing studies suggests that the use of cues in candidate evaluation is common. What remains unclear, however, is what happens between initial impressions and final decisions. Appearance-based trait inferences are one-time appraisals often made early in the process, but modern campaigns last for months and individuals receive extensive information. What is the relationship between early perceptions and the type and amount of information that individuals later choose to learn and incorporate into their evaluations and decisions? This study will be the first to consider how aappearance influences the process of learning and information search over a longer horizon. To achieve its goal, the project will conduct a series of three experiments using the Dynamic Process Tracing Environment (DTPE), a web-based computer program that allows researchers to mimic the constant flow of information and thus to track the content, sequence and amount of information accessed by subjects. As such, DTPE provides a unique opportunity to examine the entire process--from first exposure until she is eventually asked to make a choice. The three experiments in this study ask subjects to participate in simulated campaigns in which they must gather information about mock candidates. Different aspects of candidate appearance are systematically varied, and analyses will explore the effects of these manipulations on the relationship between appearance, the information that subjects search for, a subject's ultimate evaluations, and a subject's final choice. This study will address the ways in which stereotypes based on race and gender, and perceptions of traits like competence based on 'snap judgments' of someone's facial features, interact to influence overall evaluations. This project also makes broader contributions. The electoral process is central to any democracy. As American society becomes increasingly diverse, it is increasingly important that we understand the implications of cues based on physical appearance.
Effective start/end date1/15/1212/31/12


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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