At face value, we could all be competent politicians … or hairless criminals
If it takes less than a second to judge a politician based on their face, what does that say about the presumption of innocence? Neuroscientist Alexander Todorov tells us about the power of first impressions.
DW: Your book "Face Value" describes how we make snap judgments about people based on their faces, and that we do that in seconds or less. Personally, I find faces leave a stronger impression on me than names.
Faces are really special, socially speaking. There are lots of fascinating studies with newborns who have virtually no visual experience. For instance, if you show them a face-like stimuli and something else with equal complexity, they prefer to look at the face. So there's a good case to be made that in a sense we're born with this readiness to look at faces. And then in the first few months of life you have a massive exposure to faces. There are studies where you put tiny spy cameras on the baby's head, and you record what they see, and 25 percent of the time they're looking at faces, which makes sense because they're just being carried around. But eventually this develops … and there are other studies that suggest we have regions in the brain dedicated exclusively to processing the face, and it seems they come on line pretty early in human development. So they are really important stimuli.
And we're using these stimuli to make judgment calls - you say, for instance, we judge a person's competence or character based on their face. And that can be positive and negative. Take the 2001 terrorism events in the US. Very quickly, Osama bin Laden became this image of hate or evil. We focused everything on his face. And that happens time and again. What's happening there?
We started talking about it being easier to remember faces than names. But it's actually the best mnemonic technique. When you try to remember something you associate it with something visual. A face is such that once you're familiar with it you never forget it. And it's very easy to tack different memories to it. Then once you have this knowledge, all of that knowledge is projected onto a particular image. So a face triggers all kinds of associations and feelings.
You also describe how experiments have shown we need hardly any time to make a judgment call. And I wonder whether, when you get down to microseconds, where the face is barely visible to the person seeing it, are we imagining a face that we want to see there - a face we like or fear - are we creating an image from all the faces we already know?
I don't think so. If that was the case, then presumably you wouldn't get any agreement between the participants [in the lab]. The first thing we do is look for agreements between participants.
You can manipulate the amount of time they see a face systematically from 33 milliseconds to an unlimited amount of time. Thirty-three milliseconds is at the threshold of your visual awareness, so you are seeing a face, but you're not going to be able to articulate what you're seeing. And some people say that's ridiculous. But even after this small exposure your judgment correlates with judgments made in the absence of any time constraints - unlimited time. This correlation increases but it reaches a plateau at about 167 milliseconds. So you really don't need more than 200 milliseconds [to form a judgment]. It's literally a single glance impression.
Say we judge competence in a politician based on a single glance at his or her face, what else can you tell us about the role that prior knowledge of the person plays?
Knowledge is very powerful. And once you have the knowledge you see the image differently.
We did a bunch of experiments with faces of bald men - actually it turns out there were a few women too. And for many years in the lab we believed these were faces of prisoners. They were neutral images, black and white, shaved guys, looking stern. And then I decided to get hold of the original source. It was an art book called "Heads," and the artist simply took pictures of people from all walks of life, but certainly not prisoners, who were bald. That's it. One of the pictures was particularly stern. It was of a former police officer from Westchester County in New York State, and that seemed plausible, but there was nothing in the image to suggest it was true.
The media landscape is getting more and more visual, influenced by social media. Traditional TV is out the window, we're told, but we're still focused on video and photographic images. So I suppose the power of faces and other visuals will only grow as more people start to understand how you can influence perceptions of competence, what's believable, who's a criminal, who's trustworthy, who can get a loan…
In the newspaper industry, editors always pick the image that fits the story. There's the example of Jared Lee Loughner, the guy who shot an Arizona senator. When that happened, I was living in New York, and the next day in every major newspaper and tabloid … it was like the "eyes of evil" … they strategically selected this image to fit the story. "The Guardian" was the only newspaper that ran a completely different image, where Loughner looks normal, on a college campus, smiling.
So images have a huge effect, but the knowledge also colors you so much. And once you have the knowledge, you try to find the image that fits your story.
Alexander Todorov is professor of psychology at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His book "Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions" is published by Princeton University Press (2017).
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June 18, 2013. Donald Trump tweeted: "The Miss Universe Pageant will be broadcast live from MOSCOW, RUSSIA on November 9. A big deal that will bring our countries together!" He later added: "Do you think Putin will be going - if so, will he become my new best friend?" October 17, 2013 Trump tells chat show host David Letterman he has conducted "a lot of business with the Russians."
September 2015: Hacking allegations raised
An FBI agent told a tech-support contractor at the Democratic National Committee it may have been hacked. On May 18, 2016, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, said there were "some indications" of cyberattacks aimed at the presidential campaigns. On June 14, 2016 the DNC announced it had been the victim of an attack by Russian hackers.
July 20, 2016: Mr Kislyak enters the picture
Senator Jeff Sessions - an early Trump endorser who led his national security advisory committee - met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a group of other ambassadors at a Republican National Convention event.
July 22, 2016: Assange thickens the plot
Julian Assange's WikiLeaks published 20,000 emails stolen from the DNC, appearing to show a preference for Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders.
July 25, 2016: Cometh the hour, Comey the man
The FBI announced it was investigating the DNC hack saying "a compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously."
November 8, 2016: Trump elected
Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. On November 9, the Russian parliament burst into applause at the news.
November 10, 2016: Team Trump denies Russia link
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November 18, 2016: Flynn appointed
Trump named General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. The former Defence Intelligence Agency chief was a top foreign policy adviser in Trump's campaign. Flynn resigned in February after failing to disclose full details of his communication with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
January 26, 2017: Yates - 'The center cannot hold'
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March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself
Trump said he had "total confidence" in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
March 20, 2017: FBI examines Trump-Kremlin links
FBI Director James Comey confirmed before the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the FBI was investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
May 9, 2017: Trump sacks Comey
In a letter announcing the termination, Trump wrote: "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."
May 17, 2017: Mueller appointed special counsel
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to look into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
August 2017: FBI seizes documents from Manafort
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September 2017: Trump Jr.'s talks to Senate committee
Donald Trump Jr. tells the Senate Judiciary Committee he has not colluded with a foreign government. The closed-door interview relates to his June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which was also attended by his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump Jr.’s emails, however, suggest the meeting was supposed to produce dirt on Clinton.
October 2017: Internet giants allege Russian interference
Facebook, Twitter and Google reportedly tell US media they have evidence that Russian operatives exploited platforms to spread disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election. The three companies are expected to appear before a Senate Intelligence Committee in November.
Hideki Tojo was Japan's prime minister from 1941 to 1944 and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Imperial Army. He was accused of being responsible for the killing of 4 million Chinese as well as conducting biological experiments on prisoners of war. Following his country's surrender in 1945 he tried to kill himself with a pistol. However, he survived, confessed to the crimes and was hanged in 1948.
The "China expert" began his career in 1912 as a secret agent in Beijing. Doihara, who spoke mandarin and several Chinese dialects fluently, founded the "Manchurian Empire" together with China's last emperor, Puyi. It was a puppet regime under Japanese control. In 1940, Doihara backed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hanged eight years later.
Matsui was accused of being involved in the 1937 Nanjing massacre in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed within a week. Nowadays, historians believe that the decision for the carnage was taken by the imperial family. The family, however, was never charged. A tribunal convicted Matsui of being a "Class B" war criminal. He was executed in 1948.
In 1939, Kimura waged a brutal war against the armed forces of China's Communist Party in the eastern part of the country. He set up concentration camps in which thousands died. In 1944, he was sent to Burma where he became army commander. He used prisoners of war to build a 415-kilometer-long railway connecting Thailand to Burma. Some 13,000 allied soldiers died. He was hanged in 1948.
Hirota was Japan's prime minister until February 1937 and later became foreign minister. He was charged with sanctioning the Nanjing massacre. Hirota (seen here in the middle) was the only civilian politician to be hanged in 1948.
On September 18, 1931, Itagaki orchestrated a bomb attack on a railway in the northeastern region of Manchuria. Japan used this as a pretext to declare war on China. Itagaki later fought in North Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia until he surrendered in 1945. He was found guilty of escalating the war and was hanged in 1948.
Ever since the outbreak of the war, Muto fought in China and was later found guilty of taking part in several atrocities, including the Nanjing massacre. According to the judges, Mutto not only let prisoners of war starve but also "tortured and murdered" them.
Under his leadership, Japan left the League of Nations after some member states accused Japan of starting the war against China. Matsuoka was foreign minister between 1940 and 1941 and was one of the co-signers of the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In 1946, he died of tuberculosis before being sentenced.
Marshal Admiral Osami Nagano, a supporter of the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, ordered the attack on December 7, 1941. Twelve US warships either sunk or were badly damaged and more than 2,400 American soldiers were killed. Nagano died of pneumonia in 1946 before he could be tried in the Tokyo war crimes trials.
He was the head of Japanese propaganda. Shiratori was Japan's ambassador to Italy and pushed for an alliance between his country, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As an advisor to the foreign minister, he disseminated his fascist ideals both "on and off the stage." Toshio was sentenced to life in prison where he died in 1949.
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Togo was an expert on Germany. He spoke German, studied German philology, married a German and was appointed Japan's ambassador to Germany in 1937. He was appointed foreign minister in 1941 and again in 1945, when he advised the Japanese government to surrender. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and died in 1950 while in jail.