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On face value, Dean and Clark mug the best

Enough about the policies and fundraising of the presidential aspirants. What do their looks say about their prospects?

Brandeis University's Leslie A. Zebrowitz specializes in reading faces, deconstructing eyes, noses, mouths, chins, and cheeks for the silent but potent messages they convey to others.

In her book ''Reading Faces,'' she outlines the two poles of facial features: babyishness and maturity. The former means round jaws, big eyes, thin eyebrows, full lips, small noses and short chins that convery warmth and honesty. As for mature visages, which impart strength and shrewdness, they consist of angular jaws, small eyes, thick eyebrows, thin lips, big noses, and long chins. Most people feature some combination of these characteristics.

''The ideal candidate,'' Zebrowitz said, ''would have a mixture of babyish and mature features to create an impression of moderate levels of warmth, trustworthiness, strength, shrewdness, and dominance.''

It may seem shallow but there can be no denying that candidates' looks influence voters' perceptions, just as people react to others' faces, whether in a singles bar or in the workplace.

Other characteristics — voice, facial expression, height, clothing — can counterbalance facial features.

Zebrowitz analyzed pictures of the major Democratic candidates and Bush. She cautioned that single snapshots often aren't enough to reach strong conclusions about faces. Nonetheless, she found Howard Dean and Wesley Clark leading in the facial primary among Democrats.

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