It’s clear that Republicans and Democrats had different political opinions about Mitt Romney. But did Romney literally look different to the two sides? A forthcoming study suggests that might be the case.
According to new research from Ohio State University psychologists, individual political biases might have caused 2012 GOP presidential nominee’s physical appearance to appear different to Republicans and Democrats.
Here’s how the study worked: Researchers brought in 148 undergraduate students and asked them about their views of Romney and President Obama, how likely they were to vote in the election (or if they had already voted) and to rate themselves as a Democrat or a Republican, and as a liberal or conservative.
Then the students were directed to compare 450 pairs of slightly different images of Romney’s face and asked to select the one in each pair that they thought looked the most like him. (The participants were plenty familiar with Romney; the study was conducted over the course of several weeks in November 2012, both in the days just before the presidential election and in the immediate aftermath.)
Once the photos were selected, researchers created two sets of composite photos of Romney’s face — one based on the choices of the GOP-leaning participants, and another based on the Democratic-leaning participants.
When a separate group of 213 adults were asked which images of Romney looked more trustworthy and more positive, overall they chose the ones generated by the Republicans.
“That our attitudes could bias something that we’re exposed to so frequently is an amazing biasing effect,” said Ohio State University psychology professor Russell Fazio, the senior author of the study, in a release. “It suggests that people may not just interpret political information about a candidate to fit their opinion, but that they may construct a political world in which they literally see candidates differently.”
The full report, Political Attitudes Bias the Mental Representation of a Presidential Candidate’s Face, will soon be published in the academic journal Psychological Science.