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The Face of the Enemy: The Effect of Press-Reported Visual Information Regarding the Facial Features of Opponent Politicians on Support for Peace

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Research in political communication devotes growing attention to the role of visual information relayed through different mediums, including the news media, in forming political impressions, attitudes, and opinions. An increasing body of research indicates that exposure to visual information on the facial appearance of politicians from one's own state or country affects the favorability of attitudes towards these politicians as well as affecting voting intentions. However, the impact of visual information regarding politicians from the opponent side in a conflict has not been systematically examined. The current study addresses this gap by examining the effect of visual news coverage—regarding the facial features of political leaders from the opponent side in a conflict—on support for peace. In an experiment conducted in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish-Israeli respondents received a news item containing a proposal for peace agreement accompanied by a photograph described as portraying the Palestinian political leader offering the proposal. The photograph included a digitized facial image that was manipulated to appear as baby-faced or mature by altering the size of the eyes and lips. In line with my expectations, the baby-faced Palestinian politician was judged as more trustworthy than the mature-faced version of the same photograph and the press-reported peace proposal received higher support when offered by the baby-faced Palestinian politician. Also in line with my expectations, the Palestinian politician's perceived trustworthiness was a significant mediator of the effect of the politician's facial features on support for peace.

Keywords: concession making; conflict resolution; facial features; media coverage; negotiation; news media; nonverbal communication; political communication; political leaders; visual information

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Communication,Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Head of the Smart Family Communications Institute,

Publication date: 2012-07-01

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