An old expression suggests that beauty is only skin deep. This is another way of saying that there is much more to a person than physical appearance and that to discriminate against those who are physically unattractive in favor of those who are attractive is a form of prejudice. Researchers have found, however, that people who are physically attractive are more often liked—not just in a sexual sense, but also in most kinds of social situations. To a great degree it seems that people think that beauty equals goodness.
In one study, psychologists deliberately left money in a telephone booth change return and then watched secretly as the next person came to use the telephone. The person in the telephone booth was then approached by either an attractive or an unattractive confederate of the psychologists. This person would ask whether the subject in the telephone booth had found any money, because the confederate might have left some in the change return. Subjects were more likely to return the money to the attractive confederate. This outcome may have occurred because it's more reinforcing to get a smile and a thank you from a beautiful person or because the subject hoped that returning the change would begin a relationship. Alternatively, the confederate's good looks may simply have made the subject feel better and, therefore, more likely to give the money back.
In mock trials psychologists have found that juries are more likely to give a less severe sentence to an attractive defendant. This is not always the case, however. If the defendant is said to have used his or her good looks while committing the crime, the sentence is more likely to be harsh. Investigators also have found that attractive, batter-dressed panhandlers make more money than do unattractive ones.
Children learn at an early age that physical attractiveness is an important dimension. In one study, 3- to 6-year-old children were asked to illuminate a slide of either an attractive or an unattractive child. The children were significantly more apt to illuminate the slide of the attractive child. By the fifth or sixth grade attractive children are more successful in influencing and changing the behavior of children of the opposite sex than are unattractive children. By college, attractive people are more likely to have dating experience and sexual experience than are unattractive people.
Knowing that you are attractive or unattractive also can affect your personality. One study demonstrated that social skill was positively correlated with physical attractiveness. In this study, individuals engaged in telephone conversations and were then rated by their telephone partners, who had not yet seen them, on dimensions of social skill, anxiety, liking, and desirability for future interaction. The more physically attractive an individual was the higher his or her ratings tended to be.
Researchers also have demonstrated that attractive individuals are less likely to be
affected by peer pressure. It may be that attractive individuals value their own opinion more than that of others because they have been told that they are themselves valuable. Unattractive individuals are more susceptible to peer pressure because they appear to have a greater desire to be liked and are therefore more likely to comply with group demands (Adams, 1977).
Attractive individuals are not always assessed in a better light. Whether they often depend on which aspect is being evaluated. For instance, people more often perceive attractive people as vain and egotistical and as more likely to have extramarital affairs (Oermer & Thie), 1975). And, although it is true that physical beauty affects judgments of personality, the reverse is also true. In one experiment, photographs of female college students were rated attractive, average, or unattractive by a group of undergraduate subjects. Then, another group of 69 male and 58 female undergraduates were shown the photos with either favorable, average, or unfavorable personality descriptions attached to them. Photos accompanied by a favorable description of personality were rated higher than were those without the description, and those accompanied by unfavorable descriptions were rated lower than were those without the description (Gross & Crofton, 1977). In this case what was good was beautiful.
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