To win an Oscar, it is best to be an American actor in a film that portrays American culture, according to the paper published in the British Journal of Psychology. The paper further reveals that actors who share social group membership with the judges have a good chance of winning the Academy Awards for best actor and for best actress in a leading role by the Los Angeles-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (the Oscars) as well as the award for best actor and actress in a leading role by the London-based British Academy of Film and Television Arts (the BAFTAs).

For the study, Dr Niklas K. Steffens of the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland and his team examined the patterns in the awards distributed by the Oscars and also conducted a large-scale analysis of the distribution for the awards by the BAFTAs since 1968. The study covered a total of 908 merit prize winners, comprising 97 winners and 383 (unsuccessful) nominees for the Oscars, and 97 winners and 331 (unsuccessful) nominees for the BAFTAs. The results show that the US actors dominated the awards, accounting 69 percent of all Oscar winners and 52 percent of all BAFTAs, while British actors won 18 percent of all Oscars, but 34 percent of all BAFTAs.

“We know a lot about the factors that increase people’s capacity to show exceptional performances,” Steffens explains. “However, a somewhat different question is what makes a given creative performance likely to be seen as exceptional. This was the question we addressed in this research.”

“These results show that whether we see a given performance as extraordinary is not just a function of the objective quality of that performance. For perceivers are much more likely to recognize a performance as truly brilliant when perceivers and performers share membership in a social group.”

Leonardo Dicaprio Oscar 2016

Despite both awards seem to state they aim to recognize the quality of artists’ performance in the international arena; results however reveal that nationality made a difference – to actually winning an award. Their data shows American actors received 67 percent of all nominations but 78 percent of all awards for the Oscars. The same is true for British actors who won 31 percent of all nominations but 42 percent of all awards for the BAFTAs. In other words, US artists win a greater proportion of Oscars than BAFTAs , while British artists win a greater proportion of BAFTAs than Oscars.

“Shared social group membership becomes even more important when the diagnostic value of a quality indicator increases – that is, when we establish whether something is not just excellent but outstanding,” says Steffens. “In this case, American actors win two out of three of all Oscar nominations but almost four out of five of all Oscar awards.”

Another factor to be considered in winning an Oscar is the subject matter of the film. Researchers say that American artists accounted for 26 percent of the Oscar award winners whose performance was based on films about non-US culture but for 88 percent of award winners whose performance was in films about American culture.

“There is a widespread belief that our perception of makes a creation original and outstanding is given by its objective qualities, but in fact it is heavily influenced by the social groups we are members of, and which provide the basis for making sense of the world,” Steffens concluded.

2 thoughts on “If You’re An Actor, This Is How You Win An Oscar, According To Science

  1. For perceivers are much more likely to recognize a performance as truly brilliant when perceivers and performers share membership in a social group.”

    The whole group exchanges flattery. Perhaps these awards should be given assessed by people outside the group and unaffiliated with the group in any way.

  2. That’s the nicest way I’ve ever seen racism described. The article brilliantly illustrates the racism that has infected our art culture and that awards and recognition are given based on racial affiliation rather than actual merit.

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