The face of wrongdoing? An expectancy violations perspective on CEO facial characteristics and media coverage of misconducting firms

Mariano L.M. Heyden, Jun Gu, Heidi M. Wechtler, Udari I.K. Ekanayake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


We examine the extent to which CEO facial characteristics matter in media coverage of firms implicated in corporate wrongdoing. We build on literature discussing that leaders’ faces may convey subjective behavioral expectations and that outsiders often over-rely on facial cues when making social judgments. We situate these insights in the context of corporate wrongdoing, where information incompleteness may be particularly high, potentially prompting outsiders to draw on CEO facial characteristics in forming their social judgments. Drawing on Expectancy Violations Theory, we hypothesize that firms led by CEOs expected to be more trustworthy, as inferred from their lower facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR), will draw greater attention and more negative opinions from the media in the wake of corporate wrongdoing. Results of an experiment (Study 1) where CEO fWHR was digitally manipulated support this counterintuitive logic, while findings based on an archival study of corporate wrongdoing of US firms from 2003 to 2016 (Study 2) partly generalize the rationale in the field setting. Our findings suggest that subjective expectations inferred from CEO faces may serve as part of a complex and underexamined source of variation in media coverage of misconducting firms. We discuss implications for theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101671
Number of pages16
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • CEO
  • Facial characteristics
  • fWHR
  • Media
  • Wrongdoing

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