If you want to win over your political adversaries, first make sure you look like a giant baby. According to a slightly bizarre new psychological study, we're way more open to opposing ideas if they come from a baby-faced person.
Dr. Ifat Maoz, a communications professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, designed an experiment where he presented Jewish-Israeli subjects with fictional news items detailing a Palestinian peace proposal. The news item featured an attached photograph of a fake politician, and this image was then digitally manipulated to make the person look older or younger. This was accomplished by make the eyes and mouth 15% bigger or smaller, with the former resulting in a more baby-faced look.
The respondents were asked to give their opinions on the peace offers - which were the exact same thing in all cases - and the trustworthiness of the politician - who apart from those digital alterations, was always the exact same person. The participants consistently gave more favorable responses to the proposal from the baby-faced politician, and they consistently rated him more trustworthy than those who saw the more mature version of the same man. Professor Maoz throws around some ideas to explain this:
"People generally associate a baby face with attributes of honesty, openness and acceptance, and once you trust your adversary, you have a greater willingness to reach a compromise."
Whether this actually holds true in a broader sense is a question for future studies, and this is most likely one of those cases where the basic effect is easily overwhelmed by other factors. Still, it's an intriguing idea, particularly when you consider the routine digital manipulation of images of politicians, both positive and negative. But before you worry too much about being tricked into believing things by baby-faced political opponents, I should point out that these infant-looking politicos do face a rather large stumbling block, at least according to Dr. Maoz:
"Although features of this type can lend politicians an aura of sincerity, openness and receptiveness, at the same time they can communicate a lack of assertiveness. So people tend to prefer baby-faced politicians as long they represent the opposing side, while on their own side they prefer representatives who look like they know how to stand their ground."
So then, the only people who are naturally inclined to support baby-faced politicians...are those who disagree with them. That's one hell of a paradoxical pain in the ass.
Via Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Top image of Baby Face Nelson from O Brother Where Art Thou, because why not?