When it comes to big business, appearances it seems, matter a lot. Companies tend to be more profitable if they have a chief executive with a face rated by observers as being more competent, dominant and mature.
Similarly, companies with a chief executive judged to be a good leader, based purely on his facial appearance, also tend to be more profitable. These associations still hold even after controlling for the influence of age and attractiveness.
As Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, who conducted the research, point out: it isn’t at all clear whether chief executives with a certain kind of appearance help their company towards profit, or if instead profitable companies choose to employ chief executives who look a certain way.
What is remarkable though is that naive observers are somehow able to extract information (based on more than just age or beauty) from a brief glance at a chief executive’s face, which is in some way linked to his company’s success.
Rule and Ambady made their observations after asking 100 undergrad students to rate the faces of the chief executives (all were male) from the 25 highest and lowest rated companies for the year 2006 from the Fortune 500 website. Three students recognised one or more of the chief execs, so their data were removed.
Nick Rule told The Digest that it was too soon to speculate on what facial cues observers are using when they extract the kind of information shown in this study, but that more experiments are planned. “Truthfully, I don’t think the answer will be a simple one (e.g. ‘it’s the nose!’ or something). But we hope to have a better idea very soon.”
Rule, N.O., Ambady, N. (2008). The Face of Success: Inferences From Chief Executive Officers’ Appearance Predict Company Profits. Psychological Science, 19(2), 109-111. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02054.x