Appearance matters – but not in the same way for male and female political candidates. Limiting this discussion to the beauty-relevant elements of Chiao, Bowman, & Gill’s 2008 study, being attractive has an effect on rates of voting for female candidates while appearing approachable has an effect on women’s rates of voting for male candidates (in a laboratory simulation). It is important to note that no other information about each candidate was given to the laboratory rater/voters.
- Stimuli were of actual political candidates
- Subjects were undergraduate students at Northwestern University
Interestingly, in the actual congressional elections, laboratory ratings of how competent and dominant faces appeared correlated with a candidate getting elected.
Chiao, J., Bowman, N., & Gill, H. (2008). The Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior PLoS ONE, 3 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003666
Sherman, Haidt & Coan (2009) have found evidence that exposure to cute stimuli improves fine motor performance. In brief, subjects were exposed to images of cats/dogs or puppies/kittens and then they played the children’s game, Operation. Both studies reported in this paper found that exposure to cuteness increased subjects’ ability to successfully play Operation. Sherman et al suggest that cute stimuli can activate a human caregiving system that would have made essential physical contact with newborns/small children safer. The basic idea is that when a human sees something cute (like a puppy or a baby) a cognitive-behavioral control system is activated that ensures careful, cautious, delicate handling.
- Controlled and assessed other cognitive/emotional influences of the animal images that were presented.
- Authors assume, but do not demonstrate, that the improved fine-motor performance in response to cuteness can lead to improved reproductive success because of the fragility of human infants/small children. This relationship between fine-motor activation and behaviors helpful to fragile children has not – to my knowledge – been demonstrated.
- The nature of human infant/small child fragility is assumed, but neither demonstrated nor made explicit.
Given that feminization of women’s faces is generally found to be attractive, and that feminization can be characterized as juvenilization, this research has implications for the psychology of beauty in that it suggests that cute adult faces might have a similar effect on fine-motor performance/the proposed human caregiving system. Of course, the existence of this system and its putative adaptive purpose require additional research support before the conclusions can be generally accepted. Nonetheless, an interesting first step.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Vargas, 2007.
Sherman, G., Haidt, J., & Coan, J. (2009). Viewing cute images increases behavioral carefulness. Emotion, 9 (2), 282-286 DOI: 10.1037/a0014904
It has been generally concluded that beautiful people earn more money than others. This conclusion is called into question in a thoughtful analysis of some new and previously used data sets (Doran & Hersch, 2009). After adding a number of corrections, robustness checks, and additional controls to the reanalyzed data, these researchers conclude that real-world evidence for the beauty premium is not robust and “is either non-existent or entirely mediated through other variables” (p. 16). This result is, for me, perplexing. For example, Markus & Mobius (2006), using an analog study, found that a one standard deviation increase in beauty results in a 12.1% increase in wages. Leigh & Borland (2007), using data from the Australian National Social Science Survey (1984), found that the same one standard deviation increase in beauty improves the probability of employment by 4% in men and 5% in women. It seems that beauty gives – at least – an initial wage-earning advantage. Further, there is evidence that beautiful people grow-up in social environments that foster marketable skills (e.g., increased confidence, verbal skills [Markus & Mobius, 2006], and productivity [Cipriani & Zago, 2005]). So, what’s going on?
Wilson & Eckel (2006) and Andreoni & Petrie (2008) conducted separate analog studies that shed light on the intra- and interpersonal dynamics behind what seems to be a disappearing beauty premium. Their data suggests:
- we have higher expectations of the beautiful;
- the beautiful are more suspicious of others’ expectations;
- commonly, the beautiful do not meet others’ expectations;
- when expectations are not met, the beautiful appear more stuck-up or selfish to others and as a result are punished more than are the non-beautiful.
The implication may be that the beauty premium can be capitalized-on in those relationships where others’ increased expectations of the beautiful are met. When others’ increased expectations are not met, the beauty penalty kicks-in. Beauty, it seems, is a two-edged sword.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Andreoni, J., & Petrie, R. (2008). Beauty, gender and stereotypes: Evidence from laboratory experiments. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 73-93. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.07.008.
Cipriani, G. P., & Zago, A. (2005). Productivity or Discrimination? Beauty and the Exams. Università Degli Studi Di Verona, Dipartimento Di Scienze Economiche, Working Paper Series, 18.
Doran, K., & Hersch, J. (n.d.). The Beauty Premium is Not Robust. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from http://www.nd.edu/~kdoran/BeautyNotRobust.pdf
Markus M. Mobius, & Tanya S. Rosenblat. (2006). Why Beauty Matters. American Economic Review, American Economic Review, 96(1), 222-235. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from http://ideas.repec.org/a/aea/aecrev/v96y2006i1p222-235.html.
Wilson, R., & Eckel, C. (2006). Judging a Book by its Cover: Beauty and Expectations in the Trust Game Political Research Quarterly, 59 (2), 189-202 DOI: 10.1177/106591290605900202
A broadly applicable rule-of-thumb is that people find similarity attractive. Generally speaking, the more similar people are, the more likely they are to be attracted to each other and to find an on-going relationship satisfying. McNulty, Neff & Karney (2008) explored similarity in the facial attractiveness of newlyweds. They found that attractiveness ratings correlated at a very modest level (r = .24).
Inter-rater reliabilities were good (the alpha for men’s ratings was .90 and .93 for women).
Couples had all been married for less than 6 months.
Subjects were found via opportunity/convenience sampling and were mostly local, 18-35 year-old, U.S. college students.
Body attractiveness was not considered in this study. Since body/facial attractiveness can be evaluated separately, this is a notable limitation.
This research supports the assertion that people pair-off with similar others and suggests a modest degree of similarity in facial attractiveness in newly married couples. It is possible that including body attractiveness as a variable might alter the strength of this relationship.
[As a methodological aside, I researched my library’s database (PsychArticles), read the relevant full-text article in .pdf format, wrote and then posted this blog entry all from my iPhone. Research has changed a lot from my graduate school days in the library stacks!]
McNulty, J., Neff, L. & Karney, B. (2008). Beyond initial attractiveness: Physical attractiveness in newlywed marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 22 (1), 135-143.