Republican congresswomen appear more "feminine" than their Democrat counterparts, according to a new study by UCLA psychology researchers.
"Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker's voting record," said study author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology, in an article posted to the UCLA Newsroom website.
So what makes a woman "stereotypically feminine?"
Certainly, individuals are easily biased by outside factors not related to facial characteristics, including hair style, application of cosmetics, jewelry or clothing style, said Kerri Johnson, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA. For this reason, the researchers used a computer program that was "immune to those influences."
The program, called FaceGen, allows the researchers to measure more than 100 subtle dimensions including the shape of the jaw, the location of eyebrows, the placement of cheek bones, the shape of eyes and the contour of the forehead, to create a score ranging from -40 (highly male-typed) to +40 (highly female-typed).
For the study, the researchers had FaceGen analyze the portraits of members of the 111th House of Representatives, measuring how closely the facial features of each face approached the average for their gender.
The researchers also studied the faces of male politicians, although those findings were not as revealing, according to the authors. Republicans averaged a less masculine appearance than their Democrat counterparts -- a finding that Carpinella said may suggest that Republican men do not have to exhibit masculinity through their appearance.
The findings for female representatives were more telling, however. Republican women rated more "extremely feminine" or more "sex-typical," according to Johnson. The connection was so strong, the press release notes, that when photos of the same politicians were shown to a batch of undergrads, the students were able to guess with very high accuracy the political affiliations of those women who had been rated most and least "sex-typical."
When the undergraduates guessed that a politician was Republican, their judgments were 98 percent more likely to be accurate for women with the highest rankings for femininity; the accuracy of their judgments increased the more feminine the politician's face. When the undergraduates guessed that a politician was Democrat, their judgments were 58 percent less likely to be accurate for more feminine-looking women, and the accuracy of their judgments decreased the more feminine the politician's face.
However, the researchers were quick to point out this does not mean that Republican politicians are more attractive.
"This is a mistake I've already seen [journalists make]," Johnson told the Huffington Post. "In no way did we measure facial attractiveness."
After analyzing the findings, Johnson concluded that the differences in facial features of the congresswomen reflect the ideals and values of their constituents.
"If you look at the Democratic platform, they strive for equality (salary equity, gay rights)," while the Republican's platform "enforces and advocates for more traditional gender roles," Johnson told HuffPost. To be electable, Republican female candidates must therefore reflect their party's ideals in both ideology and physiology, Johnson added.
The professor pointed to recent comments by Senate candidate Todd Akin as evidence of this trend. "Todd Akin criticized Claire McCaskill for being less feminine," Johnson said, "Really underscoring a Republican insistence that women portray a feminine appearance."
On the other hand, being "most feminine" may be a double-edged sword. Studies also have shown that in organized settings feminine workers are actually considered less competent, Johnson said.
For example, in a 2010 article titled "Sex-Role Stereotypes: A Current Appraisal," the authors note that positively-valued masculine traits indicate competence, whereas positively-valued feminine traits reflect warmth and expressiveness.
Johnson and Carpinella's study, which is slated to be published online in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was inspired by an interest in the way people form impressions of other people using subtle—often gendered—facial cues.
The research is part of an emerging field in the social sciences called "social vision," according to the UCLA release. The field is dedicated to understanding how others are perceived based on subtle visual cues. Johnson has done similar research in the past, studying how cues in body type and motion serve as cues to sexual orientation.
Ultimately, while the researchers' most recent findings are sure to incite comment, Johnson said they really shouldn't be surprising.
"We know that physical appearance effects votes," she said. "We're gaining some insight into how it matters and why it matters, by linking policy platforms to the facial cues of the politicians themselves."
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