June 2, 2008 / 3:32 AM / in 10 years

Baby-faced bosses can help in public crises: research

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - When a company’s in trouble, it could be the CEO’s face shape, and not their expertise, that wins over the public, according to an international study that found that baby-faces were more trusted.

Researchers from Hong Kong and New York found that when a company is facing some kind of crisis, with photos of the chief executive officer in newspapers or on TV around the world, the shape of their face evoked judgments about the person and the situation.

Bosses with baby-faces -- large eyes, small nose, high forehead, and small chin -- were perceived as more honest and less likely to intentionally deceive people, while mature faces were preferred if there had been a lack of vigilance.

“A company can control what face is put on the crisis, and research suggests that the face shape of this person is not a trivial consideration,” the researchers wrote in a study to be published by the U.S.-based Journal of Consumer Research.

Researchers Gerald J. Gorn and Yuwei Jiang from Hong Kong University and Gita V. Johar from New York’s Columbia University carried out four experiments involving about 500 students to find out what surface characteristics might affect consumer judgments.

The research found that in a minor public relations crisis, participants held a more favorable attitude toward a CEO with a baby-face than a mature-faced CEO.

People who were asked to examine news accounts of fictitious corporate misdeeds, perceived baby-faced CEOs as more honest and innocent and less likely to have intended to deceive people.

But when the situation was more serious, and especially when it involved questions of competency, a baby-faced representative didn’t help the company.

When a former CEO was suspected of harming the company by a lack of vigilance, a mature-faced replacement was the preferred choice.

If a company, for example, failed to detect important defects in products, the baby-faced CEO was perceived to be detrimental.

But where the past CEO was suspected of being less than honest, the baby-faced CEO was the preferred choice for the post.

“In contexts where innocence conveys naiveté, a mature face is evaluated more favorably,” the researchers said.

“Our recommendation: send out the baby-face when the issue is one of dishonesty and the mature face when it is one of lack of vigilance,” the researchers concluded.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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