Leadership perception in candidate faces: Scotland’s unionists prefer dominant leaders, and so do nationalists – but only if they are economic pessimists
Knowles, Kristen K.
Little, Anthony C.
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Knowles, K. K. & Little, A. C. (2019) Leadership perception in candidate faces: Scotland’s unionists prefer dominant leaders, and so do nationalists – but only if they are economic pessimists. Scottish Affairs (In Press).
Voters rely on many cues to make decisions about who to vote for, and the appearance of a potential leader can play an important part in this decision-making process. When choosing leaders, it is thought that voters make “fit-to-task” voting decisions, for example, exhibiting a preference for masculine-looking leaders in hypothetical wartime scenarios, when masculine behavioural characteristics would be most valued. Here, we examine face preferences within a sample of Scottish voters during the campaign for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Subjects were presented with masculinised and feminised versions of faces in a forced-choice experimental task to select their preferred face in a hypothetical national election. No voters (those who voted to maintain the Union) chose more masculine-faced hypothetical leaders than Yes voters (those who voted in favour of an independent Scotland); effect sizes observed were medium. Within Yes voters, economic concern was related to a preference for masculine faces, but for No voters, economic outlook did not relate to face preferences. These findings underscore the importance of real-world socio-political contexts in psychology research, particularly that concerning the public perception of different leadership prototypes. Implications in the current Scottish context are discussed.