Study: Profits are higher at companies run by hot CEOs

Dig it: Companies run by CEOs with attractive faces tend to have higher profits, according to a pretty hilarious new study appearing in next month’s issue of Psychological Science. Psychologists Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady took a bunch of pictures of CEOs, put them into grayscale and standardized them in size, and then showed them to college students. The students were given no other information about the CEOs — they weren’t even told which companies they ran. With nothing other than the picture to go on, the students were asked to rate the CEOs according to their apparent “competence, dominance, likeability, facial maturity and trustworthiness.”

The upshot? CEOs who scored high on the Am-I-Hot-Or-Not ratings turned out to be piloting the most profitable companies. As a press release notes:

“These findings suggest that naive judgments may provide more accurate assessments of individuals than well-informed judgments can,” wrote the authors. “Our results are particularly striking given the uniformity of the CEOs’ appearances.” The majority of CEOs, who were selected according to their Fortune 1000 ranking, were Caucasian males of similar age.

We could, of course, regard this as a sterling example of “Science Confirms The Obvious.” I mean, in modern America, is this news? That attractive, confident-looking white dudes are where it’s at? And this comes on the heels of dozens of recent studies of hot-ology, which have demonstrated time and time again that tall, willowy, cocksure white folks are cleaning everyone else’s clocks. It also fits neatly into Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis in Blink — i.e. that first impressions are of enormous importance.

Nonetheless, we are, as the scientists note, left with the chicken-and-egg question: “which came first, the powerful-looking CEO or their successful career?”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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