Physical attractiveness stereotype

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The physical attractiveness stereotype is a tendency, described by psychologists, to assume that people who are physically attractive also possess other socially desirable personality traits. Stereotyping is the process by which we draw inferences about others based on knowledge of the categories to which they belong.[1] This theory was observed in a study done by Karen Dion, Ellen Berscheid, and Elaine Walster in 1972 they set out to answer the question “Do individuals in fact have stereotyped notions of the personality traits possessed by individuals of varying attractiveness?”. When the students arrived at the rooms they were assigned they were told that by the experimenters they wanted to test how well the students could read a person by just seeing a photo of them. The experimenters also told the students they were being compared to individuals that had been trained to be able to read a person based on body language and other interpersonal skills. The Students were then given three envelopes that contained a single photo of either a female or male around the subject's age with three different degrees of attractiveness. In the experiment, the researcher categorized the photos as average, attractive, and unattractive. The experimenters began to ask the students a series of questions related to personality which were given mathematical value to calculate attractiveness' correlation to actual traits in the experiment. The students were also asked personal questions ("Do you think this individual has a happy marriage?", etc.). The students had to tell the experimenter how successful the individual in the photo was. The results of the study deemed that those who were deemed more attractive scored higher in regards to most traits, apart from if they would make good parents.


Physical attractiveness can have a significant effect on how people are judged in terms of employment or social opportunities, friendship, sexual behavior, and marriage.[2] In many cases, humans attribute positive characteristics, such as intelligence and honesty, to attractive people without consciously realizing it.[3] Physically attractive individuals are regarded more positively and accurately in first impressions, however the physical attractiveness stereotype will have bias opinions and decisions when comparing people of different attractiveness levels.[4]

A study done by Pfeifer noted a positive correlation between physical appearance and wages. More attractive people are, on average, more likely to be employed and have a higher wage than their normal counterparts. According to this study, the estimated effects of the interviewer rating, generally, have a larger impact on men than on women, while self-ratings (of attractiveness) have a larger effect on women than on men. However, in this study, the rating from others (in this case, the interviewer) has a larger effect than self-rating. "The wage effects of attractiveness are nonlinear for men, which implies that wage punishment for unattractiveness is larger than wage premium for attractiveness and linear for women."

Another study[5] wanted to answer the question if individuals would associate higher job stability with attractive people. The results showed that they did in fact favor their hypothesis. Those we were deemed less attractive were correlated to having much lower job stability compared to attractive individuals. It also highlighted how higher-salary jobs we also associated with the more attractive individuals.

In certain instances, physical attractiveness is distinct from sexual attraction; humans may regard the young as attractive for various reasons, for example, but without sexual attraction.

Women, on average, tend to be attracted to men who are slightly taller and who have a relatively narrow waist and broad shoulders. Men, overall, tend to be attracted by women who are slightly shorter, have a youthful appearance, and exhibit features such as a symmetrical face, full breasts, full lips, and a low waist-hip ratio.[6][7]

Generally, physical attraction is dependent on three factors: universal perceptions common to all human cultures, cultural and social aspects, and individual subjective preferences. Despite universally held perceptions of beauty in both sexes, males tend to place significantly higher value on physical appearance in a partner than women do.[8][9]

Continuous Application[edit]

Based on the original study done by Karen Dion, Ellen Berscheid, and Elaine Walster in 1972 it has sparked many other scientists to test the theory in different ways in the past century.  One example would be a study done in 2011 [10]that wanted to know if attractiveness had an effect on an individual’s ability to memorize or remember certain things. The researcher used the same sample group of university students as well as the three scales of attractiveness as seen in the original study. In this specific experiment, there were positive and negative words written on the images that were shown to the participants. They had to remember the exact word with the correct face. The students had to click through the gallery of faces with a mouse; they were also given no time limit to decrease the likelihood of another variable affecting the results of the experiment. The result of their first experiment showed that the students were more likely to remember positive words that were linked to an individual who was attractive as well as the students having remembered negative words when they were paired with an unattractive photo.

Also in 1991[11] a group of researchers compiled the results of many of these studies. They compiled the research by using mathematic equations. As the researchers calculated they ensured to discard any outliner that affected the calculations. While their results were consistent with what was found in the original experiment.

Researchers found that even minor changes to appearance could evoke a different response or led to more judgment. This was seen in a study where they slightly changed the color/ shade of teeth to see if it would elicit a negative response which would cause the participates to stereotype.[12] When they lightened the teeth, more positives qualities were attributed to those individuals. When they were darkened or made more yellow, negative qualities were associated.


Studies show that teachers perceive attractive children as more intellectual, more engaged in school, and more likely to succeed academically than unattractive children. This is because teachers have been shown to have more positive interactions with attractive children. In addition, other studies show that customers' perceptions of the quality of service are boosted by physical attractiveness.

In a recent study done in 2013 [13] by Iris Vermeir and Dieneke Van De Sompel they aimed to see if physical attractiveness stereotypes can also be seen in children. The study also wanted to know if this affected the way that the children ages 8-13 would purchase ideas based on ads. The subject or participants were separated into two different age groups: 8-9 and 12-13. This was due to the fact that these two age groups have extremely different reasoning levels due to their development. The results demonstrated that children around  8-9 years of age are affected greater when it comes to Physical attractiveness while 12 to 13-year-olds were less likely to make assumptions, mainly when it came to an individual’s intelligence.

Beauty premium phenomenon[edit]

Studies show that a better physical appearance contributes to the belief of a person being better, smarter, more successful, more important, and more valuable:

  • The scores of those physically attractive are higher than less physically attractive people on measures of affect and mood.[14]
  • People tend to believe attractive people as smarter, more successful, more sociable, more dominant, sexually warmer, mentally healthier and higher in self-esteem than physically unattractive people.[15][page needed]
  • Physically attractive people are more sociable and less socially anxious and lonely than less physically attractive people.[16]
  • Physically attractive people are more popular than less attractive people and people are more likely to have an interaction with people who are physically attractive.[16]
  • Individuals are more likely to give personal information to physically attractive people than less physically attractive people.[17]
  • A physically attractive person is more likely to be reinforced than a less attractive person.[18]
  • Physically unattractive people with psychological disturbances are judged to be more maladjusted and to have a poorer prognosis than physically attractive people with the same psychological disturbance.[19]
  • A physically attractive person is more likely to be found less guilty than a less attractive person while they are charged with the same crime.[20]
  • Physically unattractive defendants are considered to be more dangerous than physically attractive offenders in sex-related crimes.[21]
  • Physically attractive individuals found guilty of a particular crime are more likely to receive more generous sentences than less physically attractive defendants.[22]
  • People pay more attention to physically attractive strangers than to unattractive strangers of either sex. For example, people avoided sitting next to people with physical deformities.[23]
  • People with facial disfigurements and other flaws are seen as less desirable. Even babies seem to prefer physically attractive faces to physically unattractive ones.[24]


Reactions to beauty may lead to interpersonal tension and conflict. For example, people may attribute greater negative and egocentric traits to them due to envy.[18] Extremely attractive individuals may be refused by their own sex type who are envious of them.[25] Attractive people are often confused with whether people are attracted to their appearance or their inner qualities. They are also more likely to rely on their looks than on their other attributes.[26] A review of literature [27] illustrates that attractive males experience much greater social and economic advantages than attractive females. Attractive females commonly face a hostile work environment with female supervisors and female coworkers - unless the attractive female is employed in a low-status position. Initially, both males and females (of average attractiveness) suspect attractive females of being intellectually inferior, but not so of attractive males. Attractive females are placed in a social position in which they must demonstrate above-average competence. Attractive males are not challenged in this manner.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schacter, D. (2012) Introducing Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers
  2. ^ Lorenz, Kate. (2005). "Do Pretty People Earn More?"
  3. ^ Dion, K.; Berscheid, E.; Walster, E. (1972). "What is beautiful is good". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 24 (3): 285–290. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/h0033731. PMID 4655540.
  4. ^ Lorenzo, G. L.; Biesanz, J. C.; Human, L. J. (2010). "What Is Beautiful Is Good and More Accurately Understood: Physical Attractiveness and Accuracy in First Impressions of Personality" (PDF). Psychological Science. 21 (12): 1777–1782. doi:10.1177/0956797610388048. PMID 21051521. S2CID 12066448. Archived from the original on 2013-03-23.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ Locher, Paul (1993). "Accessibility of the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype". At First Glare.
  6. ^ Tall men 'top husband stakes'. (2002). BBC News. Retrieved 15 October 2009.
  7. ^ Nettle, D. (2002). "Women's height, reproductive success and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in modern humans" (PDF). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 269 (1503): 1919–1923. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.2111. PMC 1691114. PMID 12350254. Archived from the original on 2016-03-10.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  8. ^ Buss, David (2003) [1994]. The Evolution of Desire (hardcover) (second ed.). New York: Basic Books. pp. 57, 58, 60–63.
  9. ^ Dubner, Stephen J. (July 9, 2007). "The Science of Large Breasts, and Other Evolutionary Verities". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  10. ^ Rohner, Rasmussen, Jean-Christopher,Ander (2011). "Physical Attractiveness Stereotype and Memory". Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. 52 (4): 309–319. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2010.00873.x. PMID 21255024.
  11. ^ Eagly, Makhijani, Ashore, Longo, Alice, Mona, Richard, Laura. "What Is Beautiful Is Good, But... A Meta-Analytic Review of Research on the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype". Psychological Bulletin. 110.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Montero, Gomez-Polo, Santos, Portillo, Lorenzo, Albaladejo (2014). "Contributions of dental colour to the physical attractiveness stereotype". Journal of Oral Rehabilitation. 41 (10): 768–82. doi:10.1111/joor.12194. PMID 24905467.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Vermeir, Dieneke, Iris, Sompel (2014). "Assessing the What Is Beautiful Is Good Stereotype and the Influence of Moderately Attractive and Less Attractive Advertising Models on Self-Perception, Ad Attitudes, and Purchase Intentions of 8-13-Year-Old Children". Journal of Consumer Policy. 37 (2): 205–255. doi:10.1007/s10603-013-9245-x. hdl:1854/LU-4238782. S2CID 53629227.
  14. ^ Umberson, D.; Hughes, M. (1987). "The impact of physical attractiveness and achievement and psychological well-being". Social Psychology Quarterly. 50 (3): 227–236. doi:10.2307/2786823. JSTOR 2786823.
  15. ^ R.B. Cialdini, (1984). The psychology of persuasion. New York: Quill William Morrow.
  16. ^ a b Feingold, Alan (March 1992). "Good-looking people are not what we think". Psychological Bulletin. 111 (2): 304–341. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.111.2.304. S2CID 144166220.
  17. ^ Brundage, L. E.; Derlega, V. J.; Cash, T. F. (1976). "The Effects of Physical Attractiveness and Need for Approval on Self-Disclosure". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 3 (1): 63–66. doi:10.1177/014616727600300108. S2CID 143504669.
  18. ^ a b Gallucci, N. T.; Meyer, R. G. (1984). "People can be too Perfect: Effects of Subjects' and Targets' Attractiveness on Interpersonal Attraction". Psychological Reports. 55 (2): 351–360. doi:10.2466/pr0.1984.55.2.351. S2CID 143923368.
  19. ^ Cash, T.F.; Kehr, J.A.; Polyson, J.; Freeman, V. (1977). "Role of physical attractiveness in peer attribution of psychological disturbance". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 45 (6): 987–993. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.45.6.987. PMID 925244.
  20. ^ Efran, M.G. (1974). "The effect of physical appearance on the judgment of guilt, interpersonal attraction, and severity of recommended punishment in simulated jury task". Journal of Research in Personality. 8: 45–54. doi:10.1016/0092-6566(74)90044-0.
  21. ^ Esses, Victoria M.; Webster, Christopher D. (1988). "Physical Attractiveness, Dangerousness, and the Canadian Criminal Code". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 18 (12): 1017–1031. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb01190.x.
  22. ^ DeSantis, A.; Kayson, W.A. (1997). "Defendants' characteristics of attractiveness, race, and sex and sentencing decisions". Psychological Reports. 81 (2): 679–683. doi:10.2466/pr0.1997.81.2.679. S2CID 144056321.
  23. ^ Houston, V.; Bull, R. (1994). "Do people avoid sitting next to someone who is facially disfigured?". European Journal of Social Psychology. 24 (2): 279–284. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420240205.
  24. ^ Langlois, Judith H.; Roggman, Lori A.; Casey, Rita J.; Ritter, Jean M.; Rieser-Danner, Loretta A.; Jenkins, Vivian Y. (1987). "Infant preferences for attractive faces: Rudiments of a stereotype?". Developmental Psychology. 23 (3): 363–369. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.23.3.363. S2CID 2058917.
  25. ^ E. Hatfield, S. Sprecher, (1986). Mirror, mirror…The importance of looks in everyday life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  26. ^ Jackson, L.A.; Hunter, J.E.; Hodge, C.N. (1995). "Physical attractiveness and intellectual competence: A meta-analytic review". Social Psychology Quarterly. 58 (2): 108–122. doi:10.2307/2787149. JSTOR 2787149.
  27. ^ Marson, Stephen M.; Hessmiller, Joanne M. (2016). "The Dark Side of Being Pretty". Journal of Sociology and Social Work. 4. doi:10.15640/jssw.v4n1a8. S2CID 148633033.