updated 11/29/2006 2:45:38 PM ET 2006-11-29T19:45:38

Good looks can help win elections, especially for women, research by Nordic economists suggests.

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Beauty can tip the balance if a contest is closely fought, Panu Poutvaara of the University of Helsinki told Reuters.

He and two Swedish economists organised an Internet survey of 2,772 people in Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and the United States to test how gender and appearance affect politics.

The basic result?

"Beauty is not determining the outcome but it helps on the margin," Poutvaara said. Beauty alone accounted for only a few percentage points but weighed more than other traits sensed in pictures.

The figures showed the theory applied much more strongly in the case of women. The data also suggested young men were at a natural disadvantage in polls, be it against older men or women, a finding the economists are still evaluating, he said

Beauty before age
Poutvaara and his colleagues asked survey respondents to rate the faces on campaign photographs of 1,929 politicians who ran in elections in Finland in 2003 and 2004, 52 percent of them men and 48 percent of them women.

Participants were asked to evaluate photographs of two male and two female candidates each time and rate their impressions on several fronts -- beauty, how likable they appeared, trustworthiness, competence and intelligence.

By using Finnish politicians, there was little chance of the respondents knowing anything about the people they saw, said Poutvaara, now finetuning findings first published in September.

More intriguing still was the discovery that people who are pretty are seen as smart, rather than empty-headed.

"People evaluated to be more beautiful are also evaluated to be more intelligent, within both sexes," Poutvaara said. "So on average it's not the phenomenon that people who are beautiful cannot be very intelligent."

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