Dirty looks: politicians’ facial appearance and unethical behaviour

James Rockey, Harriet M.J. Smith, Heather Flowe

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Over half of British Members of Parliament (MPs) were found to have overclaimed on their expenses in the 2009 expenses scandal. We conduct an exploratory analysis of whether the facial appearance of the MPs (N=636) is associated with overclaiming, as research has found that facial appearance is correlated with behavioural outcomes. Participants (N=4,727) previously unfamiliar with the MPs made trait ratings (physically attractive, charismatic, criminal, competent, financially greedy, honest, likeable, organized, physically dominant, and sincere) of each politician’s face. The latent factor structure indicated the traits could be grouped into the three broad factors identified in previous work: criminality (the traits criminal, financially greedy, and physically dominant), attractiveness (the traits physically attractive, charismatic, honest, likeable, and sincere), and competence (competent and organized). We found more attractive MPs tended to overclaim less, as did more criminal-looking MPs. But more competent-appearing politicians tended to overclaim more. We relate these findings to theories of moral licensing and moral consistency and discuss the limitations and context-specific nature of our findings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101561
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
Early online date20 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Sept 2021


  • Facial appearance and leadership
  • Unethical behaviour
  • Beauty
  • Politician's appearance
  • UK expenses scandal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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