Calling Miss Congeniality—do attractive people have attractive traits and values?

October 15, 2012, Association for Psychological Science

We've all been warned not to "judge a book by its cover," but inevitably we do it anyway. It's difficult to resist the temptation of assuming that a person's outward appearance reflects something meaningful about his or her inner personality.

Indeed, research shows that people tend to perceive attractive adults as more social, successful, and well-adjusted than less attractive adults, a phenomenon that's been termed the "what is beautiful is good" .

But could that really be true? Are physically attractive people really just as attractive on the inside as they are on the outside?

In a new article published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for , Lihi Segal-Caspi and Sonia Roccas of the Open University and Lilach Sagiv of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem investigated whether the "what is beautiful is good" stereotype holds up in the real world.

The researchers examined how traits, which describe what people are like, and values, which describe what people consider important, might be related to .

Segal-Caspi and colleagues hypothesized that outside observers would perceive as more likely to have socially desirable than less attractive women. Specifically, they hypothesized that would judge attractive women to be more agreeable, extraverted, conscientious, open to experiences, and emotionally stable than less attractive women. They hypothesized that no such correlation would be found between women's attractiveness and their perceived values, since about what constitutes a "good" value are likely to vary from observer to observer.

The researchers recruited 118 university students to serve as "targets" or "judges." The targets completed surveys about their values and their traits. They were then videotaped entering a room, walking around a table looking at the camera, reading a , and leaving the room. Each judge saw a videotape of a different target, chosen at random, and evaluated the target's values and traits and then her attractiveness, along with other physical attributes.

Women who were rated as attractive were perceived as having more socially desirable personality traits, such as extraversion, openness to experience, and conscientiousness, just as the researchers hypothesized. Out of the ten types of values, however, only one was thought to be associated with attractiveness: Attractive women were perceived as more likely to value achievement than less attractive women.

But when the researchers looked at the targets' actual self-reported traits and values, they found the opposite relationships. Targets' attractiveness, as rated by the judges, was associated with with their self-reported values and not with their personality traits. Women who were rated as attractive were more likely to endorse values focused on conformity and submission to social expectations and self-promotion.

Segal-Caspi and colleagues conclude that although some people may think beauty and goodness go together, the results from this study indicate that beautiful people may tend to focus more on conformity and self-promotion than independence and tolerance.

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4 comments

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badbooks
not rated yet Oct 15, 2012
I have to disagree. I think this test should be redone on a larger scale and in a different manner.

I have absolutely noticed a correlation between physical appearance and character traits. As with any stereotype, it isn't an exact science. But I believe as a generality, it holds quite true.

To reinforce this- I recently took a trip to a less desirable area of town to do some shopping. What I observed there was no less than shocking. People, as a whole, were loud, assertive, ignorant and in many instances aggressive. I almost witnessed a fight in a department store as one woman brushed to close to another who made loud, disrespectful comments completely lacking poise or even wit.

Observing my surroundings was like a experiencing a first hand science experiment. I felt out of my comfort zone. I am used to a different class of outgoing, smart, tactful, successful, polite, appreciative person who are without a doubt would be universally recognized as being more attractive.
loneislander
5 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2012
I have to disagree...I recently took a trip to a less desirable area of town to do some shopping. What I observed there was no less than shocking. People, as a whole, were loud, assertive, ignorant and in many instances aggressive. I almost witnessed a fight in a department store as one woman brushed to close to another who made loud, disrespectful comments completely lacking poise or even wit.


What you witnessed was an economic/cultural shift that has nothing to do with physical attractiveness unless, that is, you let personal feelings and pro-class-consciousness influence how good looking you think people are.

As for the research, it's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't found this to be true (more-or-less): "..beautiful people may tend to focus more on conformity and self-promotion than independence and tolerance...".

It makes sense too; if everyone behaves as if their looks matter it's not hard to imagine them adopting the idea for themselves.
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2012
I would have liked the see the following explored as well: Comparisons of the same people with and without artificial 'enhancements': "Plain Jane" removes her daggy sloppy joe and slippers, puts on her make-up and dresses up in her stylish Sunday Best. Beauty is a matter of perception or, 'in the eye of the beholder'. Slap on the 'war paint' and slip on the fancy 'skins' and you have artificial beauty that is skin deep at best. If you saw Jane before she 'dolled up' and then after (we're assuming that nobody is aware that the 2 images are of the same person), you would be inferring completely different personality traits about her (if the premise of the above test is retained) depending on which photo you saw. Cheers, DH66
tadchem
not rated yet Oct 16, 2012
The most useful definition of "beauty" I have ever seen (in the context of describing human beings) is "the absence of anything ugly." This applies not only to physiognomy but also to behaviour.
"Ugly" itself may be partially defined as an extreme deviation (2 sigma or more, or a less than 1% occurrence rate) from the 'local' average - the 'cultural' norm. Some minor deviation is useful for individual recognition and to generate the interest of novelty.

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