Black Men with Baby Faces Go Farther

Some strange and slightly disturbing research suggests that if you’re a black guy with a baby face, you might go farther in the corporate world. 

“Prior research suggests that having a baby face is negatively
correlated with success among White males in high positions of
leadership. However, we explored the positive role of such
“babyfaceness” in the success of high-ranking Black executives. Two
studies revealed that Black chief executive officers (CEOs) were
significantly more baby-faced than White CEOs. Black CEOs were also
judged as being warmer than White CEOs, even though ordinary Blacks
were rated categorically as being less warm than ordinary Whites. In
addition, baby-faced Black CEOs tended to lead more prestigious
corporations and earned higher salaries than mature-faced Black CEOs;
these patterns did not emerge for White CEOs. Taken together, these
findings suggest that babyfaceness is a disarming mechanism that
facilitates the success of Black leaders by attenuating stereotypical
perceptions that Blacks are threatening. Theoretical and practical
implications for research on race, gender, and leadership are

This goes against what I’d expect from a naturalistic standpoint.  For instance, among white people, White men with baby faces are considered weak leaders.  I’d expect that to be that case (even though it isn’t true).  We’re primates, and a strong jaw line is associated with alpha-male status in the back of our lizard-brains. 

But, our cultural history has thrown that all out of whack according to this study (assuming it holds water).  And I suspect it’s because white people as a group still have a hard time (subconsciously) feeling like black people are OUR people, too.  That is, part of our tribal group.  They have to work to get inside, and the baby face must work as a “weapon” in the arsenal.  (I’m conjecturing, but bear with me.)  Once inside, then he can rise as high as anyone else.  But, he first has to prove himself as a “friendly”.  White people don’t have to FIRST work to get inside, and THEN work to rise to the top.

I guess that’s another win for Bill Cosby, the ultimate baby-face black man to rise to the top of white peoples affection list (Cosby has had great work, it’s not his fault he was born with a baby face.  But, maybe that face had something to do with why he’s so popular among white people).

I am convinced that this study is representing something that will change rather dramatically over the next 10 to 20 years.  People of my generation and younger are a different breed than the Babyboomers who dominate the current CEO positions of the world. 

We’ll see.

(slight rant following, forgive me)

I could be wrong, but I’ve always felt that middle-class liberal babyboomers are subconsciously racist (primarily towards black men – they seem to be fine with black women).  They wouldn’t ever admit it, because they don’t even know it.  But, I think they want all black men to be like Bill Cosby.  They want all black music to be Jazz or Motown.  Listening to how this demographic group talks about Rap music makes me cringe (God forbid their children listen to Jay-Z. But, listening to Metallica is perfectly fine). 

Maybe I’m being harsh.  Who knows.  But, studies like this make me raise an eyebrow. 


4 responses to “Black Men with Baby Faces Go Farther

  1. I’ve always suspected you’re right about lefty babyboomers. Some of it can be chalked up to prevailing attitudes during their formative years (maybe they weren’t told to hate black people, but they weren’t supposed to go to the ghetto part of town etc), but some of it is just the result of inevitable cognitive shortcuts.

    Deciding who is in our tribe is so, so much harder than it was back in the prehistoric days. We aren’t even always sure which tribe or tribes we belong to ourselves! So we subconsciously use overly simplistic visual heuristics to relate to people we encounter. If someone looks “threatening”, it might be a cognitively cheap way of putting them in the “people I don’t want to associate with” box.

    Of course the problem is that we associate a wider range of black faces with “threatening” or “untrustworthy” characteristics. Some of this in turn is more cognitive laziness, since we may have seen more poor or militant (eg gangsta) looking blacks than whites and subconsciously adopt that judgment heuristic without realizing its faults. But some of it might be a broader cultural effect; we have just had all sorts of subtle and or insidious reinforcements of the “Black = Other” belief. Although I’m no longer as certain of their explanatory power as I used to be, Implicit Association Tests seem to support this hypothesis. This gives me hope that some of these habits will fade as the specter of segregation and state enforced racism continues to disappear.

    As a side note, Robin Hanson suggested that, given the evidence from this study, alpha male looking CEOs are probably overpaid relative to their value as an employee, so a firm looking for a cost effective CEO should higher a baby faced one ( Would firms also benefit from using their implicit feelings about black CEO candidates as an inverse guide to cost effectiveness?

  2. Great comment! And that’s an interesting idea from Overcomingbias. Thanks.

    What you said about the heuristic being overly simplistic makes sense. Of course, all heuristics are simplifications by definition. But, our goal as a society should be to complexify them up to some degree so that we’re not making rash judgments that are wholly inappropriate in our modern world.

    This goes for a wide range of evolutionarily developed behaviors, not just racism/xenophobia. Stress is a big one. We’re supposed to use stress as an indicator of impending doom. Instead we use it to get all ramped up about being caught in traffic!

    But, I do have some faith that younger generations, who are far more used to positive black-male role models will not have such knee-jerk reactions. And that each generation will get better and better.

  3. i think everyone has a vein of racism in them. you cant help it, people are wired to notice differences and be wary of them.

    i always said i was not a racist, but in the past decade, i have found that this is not true. i have hard-wiring to get past and find that i have ingrained mental processes that i never noticed before.

    to be honest, anyone who says they are not a racist is likely in denial, or a straight up liar.
    the real question is are they combating against it to be better than their own default settings.

    just my 2 pennies.

    • I think you’re right erisian23, but I think its important to recognize the difference between explicit and implicit racism. That’s why I think implicit association tests are so interesting; its (to some extent) a way of assessing how much skin color or race affect how you think. But it can be contrasted to someone who expresses the belief that some races are better than others, which I would term explicit racism. I think when someone says “I’m not racist” this is usually what they are referring to.

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