Saturday 7 December 2019

Brian Hayes' cheesy grin could make all the difference as smiles are a psychological plus for votes

Brian Hayes. Photo: Barry Cronin.
Brian Hayes. Photo: Barry Cronin.
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

It may seem like common sense but now research has proven that a smiling politician is more likely to win your vote than a stoney-faced one.

Brian Hayes’ cheesy grin on this year’s election posters could make all the difference in the Fine Gael candidate’s votes, according to a doctor in psychology.

The European election candidate is one of many political hopefuls this year who have broken the mould and opted for a ‘friendly’ smile as opposed to the traditional straight-faced pose.

And this style choice could ultimately make the difference in the result of next weekend’s local and European elections.

Dr Eric Igou, a senior lecturer in the University of Limerick Department of Psychology, explained that research in social psychology has proven that a smile conveys trust and gives people ‘warm feelings’. He believes this could result in a tick on next week’s polling cards.

“We now know that a smile makes people feel good, it conveys trust and gives people warm feelings,” Dr Igou told

“It’s associated with the ‘halo effect’ in psychology where a person’s impression of another person influences their feelings, thoughts and, ultimately, their decisions about that person’s character.

“Smiling is associated with being warm, hence creating a positive impression,” he continued.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this does have an effect on the voter’s decision.”

A Fine Gael spokesperson said the decision to have smiling candidates on their election posters was not a conscious one.

“We’re not overly scientific about this type of thing,” he said.

“Ultimately the photos should reflect the personality of the candidates and give the voters a sense of what they are like.”

They also added that it is unknown if Photoshop is used in the images as candidates are asked to supply their own photograph for use on the poster.

Senior lecturer Igou said he believes the election posters have a more powerful psychological effect on the voter than they think.

“A bigger impression may be made on some and some posters may be more attractive than others, but it does make a difference.

“An election poster is an easy message that is often repeated and that is how advertising works,” he said.

Dr Igou added that facial features and even the use of a middle initial in a name can also affect people’s decision-making process.

“A face that is seen as ‘relatively average’ is seen as attractive and this, in turn, is seen as an attribute that is ‘powerful’,” he explained.

“As a result of research, it has been found that facial features can affect people’s decisions.

The doctor in psychology recently completed research that shows the effect of somebody using their middle initial in their name and how it can alter somebody’s perception of them.

“People perceive the person as smarter when they see their middle initial used, especially if it is in an area that values intellectual ability, like voting,” Dr Igou said.

“In areas where intellectual ability is less of an issue and it is more of a question as to whether you could have a chat or share a drink with someone, the middle initial means the person is perceived as being pretentious.”

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