Psychologists make link between profitable law firms and yearbook photos of managing partners

November 30, 2010

TORONTO, ON - Psychologists at the University of Toronto and Tufts University have shown that law firms are more profitable when led by managing partners with powerful looking faces. Further, an individual's career success can be predicted as much as 30 to 40 years earlier simply by looking at their face.

"Appearance matters a great deal when it comes to judging people," says Professor Nicholas Rule of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, lead author of a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. "This includes clothing, posture, and hairstyles, but the real window to judging people is the face. We developed a method to measure facial power and found that it is a strong predictor of law firm profitability."

Rule and co-investigator Nalini Ambady of the Department of Psychology at Tufts University had people judge photos of 73 managing partners from the top 100 law firms in the United States for the year 2007. They used a scale of 1 to 7 to measure qualities such as dominance, facial maturity, likeability, and trustworthiness, with 7 indicating high amounts of those qualities. Half of the judges rated current photos downloaded from law firm websites, while the other half rated college yearbook photos of the same individuals, which on average were taken 33 years prior.

"The ratings of dominance and facial maturity for photos averaged together to form a measure of perceived power for each leader," says Rule. "We correlated those scores with the profits of the leaders' respective firms and found that they are positively associated with one another, both for the judgments made from current photos and those made from college yearbook photos."

"So, if you knew nothing about law firms other than what the faces of their leaders looked like when they were in college, you could predict their firms' profits today," Rule says. "Facial cues to success may therefore be consistent across much of the lifespan - approximately 20󈞞 years."

Although the researchers studied only leaders of law firms, Rule says that the findings could have applications for business, government, and other sectors. "In previous work, we've found similar effects with CEOs and political candidates," he says. "Judgments of faces predicted a Fortune 1,000 company's success and the percentage of votes that candidates received in the US, Canada, and Japan. These findings suggest that judging college yearbook photos might predict the outcomes for leaders in those domains as well."

The findings are presented in a paper titled "Judgments of Power from College Yearbook Photos and Later Career Success", published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Nicholas Rule
Department of Psychology
University of Toronto

Sean Bettam
Communications, Faculty of Arts & Science
University of Toronto

University of Toronto

Related Leaders Articles from Brightsurf:

How narcissistic leaders infect their organizations' cultures
Like carriers of a virus, narcissistic leaders ''infect'' the very cultures of their organizations, leading to dramatically lower levels of collaboration and integrity at all levels--even after they are gone.

How scientific leaders can enact anti-racist action in their labs
A new paper provides 10 steps that principal investigators (PIs) and research group leaders can follow to help cultivate anti-racist professional and learning environments.

Children hold leaders primarily responsible, not entitled
Researchers explored how young children conceptualize leadership, specifically whether they view leaders primarily as more entitled individuals or more responsible individuals, relative to non-leaders.

Study: New leaders emerge as organizations go to virtual work spaces
The study found that in face-to-face gatherings, team members value those with 'classic' leadership characteristics, such as extroversion and intelligence, but in virtual settings, those qualities take a backseat to those who take action.

Leaders call for 'Moonshot' on nutrition research
Leading nutrition and food policy experts outline a bold case for strengthening federal nutrition research in a live interactive session as part of NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a virtual conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

Randomly selecting leaders could prove to be a remedy for hubris
History shows us that power tends to corrupt; a team of Swiss and German researchers have recently examined historical examples of large-scale business fraud and misconduct at the highest-levels of government in order to highlight how leaders sometimes lose all sense of morality.

Infants expect leaders to right wrongs, study finds
Infants 17 months of age expect leaders -- but not others -- to intervene when one member of their group transgresses against another, a new study reveals.

Strongman leaders make for weak economies, study finds
Autocratic leaders are often credited with purposefully delivering good economic outcomes, but new research challenges that long-held assumption.

Government and NHS leaders could do more to encourage collaborative relationships between healthcare
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a briefing note outlining the factors that can contribute to disagreements between parents and healthcare staff about the care and treatment of critically ill babies and young children.

In small groups, people follow high-performing leaders
Researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering have cracked the code on how leaders arise from small groups of people over time.

Read More: Leaders News and Leaders Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to