Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF study: Focus on Sarah Palin's looks altered perception of competence

When Sarah Palin was announced as the GOP's vice presidential candidate, some pundits wondered if her relative youth and beauty might be an advantage for a Republican party with a 72-year-old at the top of the ticket.

But two researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a study that suggests the opposite — showing that a random group of Republicans and independents asked to focus on Palin's attractiveness felt less likely to vote for the GOP ticket in last November's elections.

"The idea is that when you focus on a woman's appearance, this objectifies her, or turns her into an object in your eyes," said Jamie L. Goldenberg, an associate professor of psychology at USF and co-author of the study, titled "Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that Objectification Causes Women to be Perceived as Less Competent and Fully Human." "What we found is these perceptions influenced people's likelihood of voting."

In their experiment, Goldenberg and graduate student Nathan A. Heflick assembled a group of 133 undergraduates at the school a month before the election. After noting their characteristics — 27 percent were male, 45 percent were Democrats, 24 percent were Republicans and the rest were independents — they were randomly separated into four groups.

Two groups were asked to write about Palin and two groups were asked to write about actor Angelina Jolie. Within each pair, one group was asked to write their thoughts and feelings about the subject's appearance, and the other was asked to write about the person. They then asked respondents how they would vote in the coming election.

Goldenberg said that, after factoring out Democratic respondents (who solidly supported Obama), the Republicans and independents asked to write about Palin's appearance said they were less likely to vote GOP than those who simply considered Palin as a person.

"There was an overall tendency to perceive Sarah Palin as less competent than Angelina Jolie," said Goldenberg, noting their results fell in line with previous studies indicating that, in high status and political jobs, attractive women were perceived as less competent in ways attractive men and women in other jobs were not.

In other words, for Paris Hilton and John Edwards, attractiveness is likely less damaging, though even Jolie was seen as less competent and human by those focused on her appearance. Goldenberg said the study, which is to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, may spark more questions than it answers.

"What you can't tell from this is what did they finally do in the end?" said Joel Cooper, a professor of psychology at Princeton University and editor of the journal publishing Goldenberg and Heflick's study. "But at the moment they thought of (Palin) as a beauty queen, they were less likely to consider voting for (her) … Knowing that is important for campaigns and how we understand each other."

Another question: Are female politicians who play down their appearance, like Hillary Clinton, instinctively on to something?

"We wouldn't say attractiveness is a bad thing," said Goldenberg. "But having people focus on your appearance and not what you say and who you are, is a bad thing."

USF study: Focus on Sarah Palin's looks altered perception of competence 03/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:44am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Baby Charlie protesters to rally as hospital reports threats

    World

    LONDON — Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment are planning a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats.

    Reverend Patrick Mahoney from Washington DC, centre, speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as he joins other Charlie Gard supporters, Sunday July 23, 2017. Protesters who want critically ill British baby Charlie Gard to receive an experimental medical treatment gathered for a rally and prayer vigil Sunday, while hospital officials say emotions are running so high in the heart-breaking case they have received death threats. [Associated Press]
  2. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. FHP: 55-year-old pedestrian struck, killed by car in Largo

    Accidents

    LARGO — A 55-year-old St. Petersburg man died late Saturday after he walked into the path of a car on Ulmerton Road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  4. Study offers warning for Florida strawberry farmers from global warming

    Agriculture

    LAKELAND — Florida strawberry growers already have experienced a dress rehearsal for the impacts of climate change during the past two seasons.

     Carl Grooms shows off some of his strawberries at Fancy Farms near Plant City Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015.  Grooms, President of Fancy Farms. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  5. Two Interstate 275 tractor-trailer crashes cause delays in Tampa

    Accidents

    TAMPA — Two tractor-trailers driving in opposite directions on Interstate 275 crashed Sunday within a mile of each other, causing lane closures on both sides for much of the morning.

    Two tractor-trailers going opposite directions on Interstate 275 in Tampa crashed Sunday morning, closing lanes on each side, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. [Florida Highway Patrol]