Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Exp Brain Res. 2015 Nov 25. [Epub ahead of print]

Fortunes and misfortunes of political leaders reflected in the eyes of their electors

Gaze-following is a pivotal social behaviour that, although largely automatic, is permeable to high-order variables like political affiliation. A few years ago we reported that the gaze of Italian right-wing voters was selectively captured by the gaze of their leader Silvio Berlusconi. This effect was particularly evident in voters who saw themselves as similar to Berlusconi. Two years later, we were able to run the present follow-up study because Berlusconi's popularity had drastically dropped due to sex and political scandals, and he resigned from office. In a representative subsample of our original group, we investigated whether perceived similarity and gaze-following reflected Berlusconi's loss in popularity. We were also able to test the same hypothesis in an independent group of right-wing voters when their leader, Renata Polverini, resigned as Governor of 'Regione Lazio' due to political scandals. Our results show that the leaders' fall in popularity paralleled the reduction of their gaze's attracting power, as well as the decrease in similarity perceived by their voters. The less similar right-wing voters felt to their leader, the less they followed his/her gaze. Thus, the present experimental findings suggest that gaze-following can be modulated by complex situational and dispositional factors such as leader's popularity and voter-leader perceived similarity.

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