We all have our reasons to get healthy: to fit into a pair of pants, to stave off disease, to have something to chat about with your CrossFit’ing coworker. Now you can add getting elected to the list. A new study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows that if you want other people to crown you as their leader, health—even more than intelligence—is the ultimate asset.
Researchers showed a group of 148 people a database of faces and told them to to imagine electing a leader for their organization. Four different evolutionarily important scenarios were considered: Selecting a leader for competition between a group, selecting a leader for cooperation between groups, picking someone to conservatively exploit current resources and choosing someone to explore new alternatives.
Some of the candidates’ faces were morphed to look more or less intelligent by manipulating bone structure—intriguingly, masculine characteristics like a strong jawbone were associated with lower intelligence. Other faces were tweaked to look more or less healthy by altering pigmentation of the skin—ruddier cheeks, like the glow you’d get from a healthy diet, and a less gray complexion mimicked good health.
People valued leaders with both traits, but health prevailed as the most influential characteristic. “We saw such an overriding effect of perceived health,” says lead study author Brian Spisak of the VU University Amsterdam. “When people were voting for leaders, this seemed to dominate every sort of voting paradigm that we gave participants.”
And when it comes to what metric people use to evaluate health, the results suggest that facial color might actually be more important than facial structure—and that a healthy glow may be the key contributing factor to how others perceive you. “What might be the underlying value of attractiveness across all scenarios might be the perception of health,” Spisak says. So if you want an instant beauty boost and a few endorsements from your friends, consider taking a trip to the farmers’ market.