Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Kay Granger and other Republican women in Congress tend to look more stereotypically feminine than their Democratic counterparts, suggests new research.
The new finding suggests that the faces of female candidates reflect the social values of each party. Stereotypically, Republicans value the preservation of traditional gender roles, while Democrats prefer more liberal social policies that downplay gender differences.
"We suspect that conservative constituents demand that their politicians be not just competent but also gender-typical, especially among women," University of California, Los Angeles psychologist Kerri Johnson said in a press release. "I suppose we could call it the 'Michele Bachmann effect.'"
For the new study, Johnson and colleagues used a computer model to analyze the faces of 434 male and female members of the 111th House of Representatives. The non-biased program measured how close to the gendered average each face rated on more than 100 details, including shape of the eyes and forehead, location of the eyebrows, fullness of the lips, and the distance between lip and nose.
The results didn't show any strong trends for male politicians, the researchers reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. But compared to female Democrats, Republican women in Congress had more typically feminine faces. The more conservative a female politicians views, the more typically feminine her face tended to be. The study did not evaluate attractiveness.
The findings offer insight into some of the many subtle visual cues that people tap into when choosing who to vote for.
"With the increasing emphasis on television and Internet video as a source of political news, a candidate's physical appearance is an important part of politics, especially political campaigns," Johnson said. "A considerable portion of the electorate may not be well-informed, and they may be making decisions based on subtle cues that need to be revealed and understood."
Top photo: Sarah Palin speaking at a Tea Party rally in Michigan in July 2012. Bottom photo: Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate from Massachusetts, speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.