The Nathan Cohen Photo Fallacy
This post sets forth the Nathan Cohen Photo Fallacy without offering rigorous scientific proof.1 I believe the argument to be, nonetheless, sufficiently compelling to significantly shift how one views Leonard Cohen’s father, Nathan Cohen.
The Nathan Cohen Photo Fallacy Thesis: The perception of Leonard Cohen’s father, Nathan Cohen, held by fans, journalists, and scholars has been significantly and unconsciously skewed by a single photo.
This notion hangs on three postulates:
1. Our assessment of a person’s character is significantly affected by the appearance of that person. Social perception studies repeatedly and consistently demonstrate that we intuitively form impressions of and make inferences about other people largely, albeit not exclusively, from their physical presentation.2 For example, facial appearance has been shown to reliably predict
- Whom we choose to help, hire, or date
- Criminal justice decisions
- Evaluations about which members of a group are more outgoing, socially competent, sexually responsive, and intelligent
- Assessments of health and power
It is worth noting that this effect takes place whether an individual’s appearance is viewed in person or in a photo. Most social perception studies, in fact, involve the use of photographs rather than live models.
2. For an overwhelming majority of today’s Leonard Cohen fans as well as contemporary scholars, journalists, and authors who write about the Canadian singer-songwriter (anyone, in other words, other than family and friends who can conjure up a mental picture of Leonard Cohen’s father), that image is based on this photograph.
- To those readers who find this approach suspect, be assured I am prepared to perform the necessary research and studies immediately upon receiving your certified check funding the project. [↩]
- Rather than list dozens of these studies, I offer one often-cited, representative paper: Social Psychological Face Perception: Why Appearance Matters by Leslie A. Zebrowitz and Joann M. Montepare (Soc Personal Psychol Compass. May 1, 2008 [↩]