Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
It might be one reason among many why PLO leader Yasser Arafat won no sympathy
or trust from the average Israeli Jew. Palestinian political leaders who have
“baby faces” are more trusted by Israeli Jews in peace negotiations than those
than those with older, lined faces, according to new research by the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem.
By subtly altering fictional politicians’ faces,
Prof. Ifat Maoz of the university’s Department of Communication and Journalism
studied the extent to which minor changes in appearance affect people’s judgment
of politicians from the opposing side of a conflict and their peace
In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the
research demonstrated that peace offers from baby-faced politicians had a better
chance of winning over Israeli Jews than the exact same offer coming from
leaders with more mature faces. (The effect of Jewish baby faces on Palestinians
was not examined.) Previous research has shown that politicians’ images are
often manipulated in media coverage to appear more or less favorable and that
this can affect citizens’ attitudes and voting intentions towards politicians
from their own state and country.
According to this study, manipulating
the favorability of media images of opposing political leaders in an intractable
conflict may also have a marked effect on public attitudes, and that media
presenting favorable images of opponent leaders may have the potential to
mobilize public support for conflict resolution through compromise.
who is also head of the university’s Smart Family Institute of Communications,
provided a group of Israeli Jews with a fictional news item containing a peace
proposal and a fictional Palestinian leader’s photograph.
The person in
the photograph was manipulated to appear either baby-faced or mature through a
15 percent change in the size of the eyes and lips. Respondents were then asked
to evaluate the peace offer and rate the trustworthiness of this
Although both images were based on the same original
photograph, the baby-faced politician was judged as more trustworthy and his
peace proposal received greater support than the same offer from the
“People generally associate a baby face with
attributes of honesty, openness and acceptance,” explained Maoz. “Once you trust
your adversary, you have a greater willingness to reach a compromise.”
previous studies, viewers formed judgments of trustworthiness after as little as
100 milliseconds of exposure to a novel face, and certain facial features evoked
feelings of warmth, trust and cooperation while minimizing feelings of threat
and competition. People with relatively babyish facial characteristics such as
proportionally large eyes, a round chins and thick lips are perceived as kinder,
warmer, more honest and more trustworthy.
They tend to elicit more
agreement with their views and help from others than mature-faced people with
small eyes, a square jaw and thin lips.
These conclusions are especially
important in the current technological and political environment, in which the
dominance of television and Internet, combined with the proliferation of photo
opportunities, photo-shopping and image consultants, means politicians’ faces
are seen more than ever and their physical appearance has a greater chance of
affecting the impressions, attitudes and opinions of media consumers.
study also gauged the extent to which manipulating facial features can affect
populations with different pre-existing attitudes, overcome hawkish resistance
to change and increase perceptions of opponents as trustworthy. While
individuals with hawkish positions held markedly negative initial attitudes
towards peace and the opponents in a conflict – attitudes that tend to be rigid
and resistant to change – they surprisingly showed a more significant response
than dovish respondents to differences in facial maturity.
that in situations of protracted conflict, the face of the enemy matters. Visual
information that conveyed subtle, undetected changes in facial physiognomy was
powerful enough to influence people’s judgments of opponent politicians and
their peace proposals.
She added that there are situations in which a
baby-face is not advantageous: “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.”
“[Therefore] 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,” Maoz said.