Is it just coincidence that America’s political leaders (for the most part) have been among the most attractive in the world? In the recent past it was believed that voters were drawn to candidates that present the most physically appealing “hollywood” looks. Traditionally scientists attributed this to the “halo effect” which is if a person is good-looking, they must also possess “all things good.” Recently however, another group of scientists have challenged this belief.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Why Attractive Candidates Win By A. E. White & D. T. Kenrick, New York Times
“…Americans have a long history of electing good-looking leaders.
Of course, not every successful candidate could be a stand-in for George Clooney or Angelina Jolie. Indeed, sometimes a less attractive candidate triumphs over a better-looking rival. So when and why do voters prefer more attractive politicians?
Scientists had previously theorized that the general preference for attractive leaders was just another example of a “halo effect.” In other words, we attribute all kinds of positive characteristics to attractive people, and this tendency leads to more votes for politicians who look like Hollywood stars.
But our work challenges this traditional view. As we argue in a new article in the journal Psychological Science, people’s preferences for good-looking politicians may be linked to ancient adaptations for avoiding disease. In fact, the preference for attractive politicians seems to ebb and flow with voters’ concerns about germs. Past research has found that some of the features associated with beauty — smooth skin, shiny hair, body and facial symmetry — are actually indicators of health.
Building on these findings, we hypothesized that voters’ preferences for physically attractive politicians might reflect a desire for leaders who are free from disease. Our ancestors frequently confronted devastating epidemics that wiped out many of the members of their groups; at such times, having a healthy leader might have been particularly important. If this is right, then modern humans may have a vestigial tendency to prefer attractive leaders when disease threats are looming…
To rule out alternative explanations for this phenomenon, we also conducted a series of controlled experimental studies. In one study, participants were exposed either to images of unhealthy people, violence or, as control, office supplies. People who had seen the images of disease placed relatively more importance on a candidate’s physical attractiveness…
the link between disease and leader preferences aligns with other new findings showing that disease concerns are connected in functional ways to a host of human decisions, from prejudice to religiosity. This work is part of a larger program of research exploring how human decision making reflects the influence of our evolutionary past, and highlighting how little we understand our own, supposedly reasoned, decision making.”
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to read the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article. As a class discuss the meaning of each word or phrase.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart by Education Oasis for assistance.
- Not every successful candidate could be a stand-in for George Clooney.
- Sometimes a less attractive candidate triumphs over a better-looking rival.
- We attribute all kinds of positive characteristics to attractive people.
- Our work challenges this traditional view.
- Healthy skin and hair are actually indicators of health.
- Modern humans may have a vestigial tendency to prefer attractive leaders when disease threats are looming.
- People worried about germs will prefer attractive politicians.
- Explanations for this phenomenon are being tested.
- This finding suggests that the preference is for good-looking leaders.
- A final experiment extended these findings to leadership preferences.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
“To test this___, we first examined the links between health statistics and ___for winners and losers in the 2010 United States congressional elections. These___revealed that in congressional districts with a higher incidence of ___more physically attractive ___earned a significantly greater portion of the vote and were actually more likely to win at the ballot box. In fact, ___ candidates were almost ___as likely to ___in these districts. By___ in districts where people were generally___being the better-looking candidate had no measurable effect on ___outcomes. To rule out ___explanations for this ___we also conducted a series of___ experimental studies. In one study, participants were exposed either to images of ___people, violence or, as control, office supplies. People who had seen the images of ___placed relatively more importance on a candidate’s physical attractiveness. This finding suggests that the for good-looking ___arises from a desire to avoid disease threats specifically and is not a response to ___more generally (those exposed to the violent images did not show the same pattern of results).”
preference, voting patterns, controlled, disease, unhealthy, leaders, good-looking, threats, phenomenon, disease, electoral, alternative, analyses, hypothesis, candidates, healthier, twice, contrast, win.
Directions: The following sentences from the article are scrambled. Have students unscramble each sentence. Students can find the original sentences in the reading to check their work.
- theorized “halo effect” example of a Scientists general preference had previously attractive leaders just another that the for was.
- work this challenges traditional view our But.
- members of their frequently confronted Our ancestors devastating epidemics of the that wiped out many groups.
- voting patterns hypothesis, To test this health statistics examined we first and for winners the links between and losers.
- attractive person with disease were concerned were more likely to desire a more take People who said the boss they that on role.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
For additonal practice students could use this Topic/Concept/Theme organizer by Write Design to assist them with discussing or writing about the main topic or theme of the article.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
Review ESL Voices Modes of Essay Writing.
- According to the article, “Scientists had previously theorized that the general preference for attractive leaders was just another example of a “halo effect.” In other words, we attribute all kinds of positive characteristics to attractive people.” Provide an example of what this statement means.
- The article states, “…people’s preferences for good-looking politicians may be linked to ancient adaptations for avoiding disease… If this is right, then modern humans may have a vestigial tendency to prefer attractive leaders when disease threats are looming.” In thinking about recent elections in the U.S., does this statement seem to be true?
- From your point of view, do you feel that people vote for political candidates based mainly on their physical appearance? Provide reasons for your answers.
- Do you consider a candidate’s physical appearance to be important in the political arena? Provide reasons for your answers.
Main Idea / Debate
Directions: Divide students into two teams for this debate. Both teams will use the article and other outside material as their source of information.
Team A- Pro- Present an argument supporting why a candidate’s physical appearance should be important to voters.
Team B -Con- Present an argument for why a candidate’s physical appearance should not be important to voters.
Each team will list at least 3-5 reasons to support their views. After, each team presents their arguments, the teacher decides which team made their points.
For organization, have students use this great Pros and Cons Scale organizer from Freeology