There is a “significant relationship” between an executive’s facial traits and the chances that he or she will rise to the job of chief executive, according to a new academic paper.

Closeup: Portrait of a senior handsome business manCEOs who appear to be more competent-looking than other executives – even though they may not be – also tend to benefit from a “competent looks” wage premium, according to the study.

The paper, A Corporate Beauty Contest, was authored by three Duke University professors and is based on experiments with almost 2,000 subjects.   A summary first appeared on the Harvard Law School Forum for Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation.

The researchers said they first tested to see whether subjects evaluate the facial traits of CEOs to be different when showed a photograph of the CEO and a carefully matched non-CEO.  They asked the subjects to select the one that looks the most “competent”, “trustworthy”, “likable”, and “attractive”.  The result: CEOs are perceived to be “more competent and slightly more attractive” but “less likable and less trustworthy.”

Are competent looking CEOs actually more competent? The researchers said they ran regression analyses on performance data and concluded there was “no evidence that competent looking CEOs demonstrate better firm performance.”

“CEOs are generally viewed as being more mature-faced as opposed to baby-faced than are non-CEOs, and this visual maturity is positively correlated with the perception of competence and negatively related to the perception of likeability,” the study found.

However, the researchers pointed to a body of psychology literature which finds that people that are “baby-faced” are often more intelligent and possess other actual characteristics that are at odds to those projected by facial traits.  “In other words,” the researchers said, “baby-faced individuals may actually be more able, on average, than the rest of the population.”

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