Do you have the face of a leader?

Research shows that people correlate a certain set of facial features with leadership (at least, if you're a white male)

Man peering through a number of carnival face cutouts for different jobs

(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

When you were a kid, you were probably asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Or maybe you’re still being asked that question today.) Well, a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Warwick and the United States Military Academy shows that your leadership potential could come down to how you look.

Researchers found that strangers with no additional information are able to identify with notable accuracy when a person holds a leadership position in business, the military, or professional or college sports, based purely on their facial features.

In one experiment, the study’s authors showed 600 British adults black-and-white photographs of real CEOs, military generals, state governors and coaches. The photos were tightly cropped so only their faces were seen, and all photos were of non-famous white males. Two photos were shown together, and subjects were asked to identify which one was, for example, a state governor, and to rate how accurate they believed their guesses.

After more than 80 rounds of matching and guessing faces to occupations, the researchers found that the participants were able to accurately pick out the business, military and sports leaders more consistently than if they were guessing by chance. The study’s authors discovered that participants were matching faces to jobs based on a certain set of facial characteristics. For instance, subjects rated military coaches as having more masculine features, while businessmen and politicians were rated more highly on warmth and an impression of competence.

In other words: To get the part, it helps to look the part.