Frank Underwood's Subliminal Face App Could Really Work

"House of Cards" goes "Black Mirror."

"House of Cards"

President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) shows off another trick to win votes in the new season of House of Cards: a face-melding app that lets people create a composite of their face and the president’s.

“Do you think this really works?” Frank asks First Lady Claire (Robin Wright) at the beginning of the second episode. He is playing with a composite of their two faces.

“Well, it’s just about making the candidates seem familiar, so that the voter sees herself in him,” Claire explains. She leans over to adjust the composite image to the perfect blend. “There. Congratulations, Francis, you have my vote.”

The Frank-Claire blend is not only uncanny and highly symbolic but also a glimpse into some brilliant subliminal science.

Frank Underwood and Claire Underwood get face-melded.

"House of Cards"

In 2008, Stanford researchers found that subjects responded more positively to politicians whose faces had been subtly altered to match their own.

The idea that we respond positively to people who look like us is well-established, but what struck the researchers most is that subjects couldn’t even tell they were looking a blended image (set at 40 percent their own facial features and 60 percent the politician’s).

“The big finding No. 1 is that when we do this, no one has any conscious, explicit idea that it’s going on,” Professor Jeremy Bailenson said. “The second big finding is that despite the fact they don’t consciously detect these processes, it affects their behavior. When the candidate looks more like you, you are more likely to vote for that candidate.”

Bailenson speculated back in 2008 that a candidate might someday use this technology to match their face to individual voters. Of course, that approach could lead to a massive scandal if those images were ever circulated.

Perhaps more brilliant then would be exactly what the Underwoods have made: a free, fun app where people can create their own composite images and subliminally influence themselves.

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