Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 1998

Physical Attraction: Attributions
Chris Hendricks, Dawn Olson
Seth Hall & Jonathan Batt

   Encompassing virtually all facets of human interactions, from societal attributions, to dating practices, from socioeconomic status, to biases in our very judiciary system, the effects of physical attractiveness on attributional analysis is profound. Social psychologists’ research suggests that elevated levels of physical attractiveness correlate positively with degrees of sociability, intelligence, success, and self-esteem, howbeit they have found negative relationships with honesty and concern for others (e.g., Feingold, 1992; Jackson, Hunter & Hodge, 1995). These findings have helped to outline a physical attractiveness stereotype – the theorem that physically attractive people possess socially coveted traits. Overall people make more positive attributions about physically attractive people as opposed to their less attractive peers (Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986). Consequently, Cialdini (1995) warns that these physically attractive individuals are more influential in changing attitudes and obtaining what they request.

    "We like others who are similar to us" (Clark & Pataki, 1995; 285); shown in a plethora of studies, similarity of attitudes fosters greater attraction in relationships. Furthermore, when factors such as age (Warren, 1966), economic status (Byrne, Clore, & Worchel, 1966), and personality (Caspi & Harbener, 1990) also match, there is a greater likelihood that the attracted persons involved will end up as intimate partners. In a nine-month study of UCLA couples, Gregory White (1980) discovered that the closer matched dating pairs in terms of physical attractiveness were more likely to have fallen more deeply in love. Despite this matching tendency, high status older men often marry beautiful younger women (Elder, 1969). In these relationships, the less attractive partner offers counterbalancing qualities, such as status or wealth. This suggests that the asset-matching process may actually transcend the influence of the physical attraction-matching phenomenon. Accordingly, disapproving attributions about the motivation of the younger party’s interest -- such as "she married him for his money" -- may be justified.

    Physical attraction’s influence has also been observed in the professional world as well. Cash, Gillen and Burns (1977) have shown that job candidates are subject to the physical attractiveness stereotype, even by experienced personnel consultants. Additionally, as compared to their less attractive counterparts, attractive people tend to have more distinguished positions, earn more money, and characterize themselves as happier (Umberson & Hughes, 1987; Diener, Wolsic, & Fujita, 1995). One of the explanations that has been offered to explain these phenomena is the postulate that since physically attractive people are more estimable, they are able to cultivate an increased social self-confidence. Notwithstanding, the aforementioned positive affects of physical attraction are somewhat underscored by research conducted by Hatfield and Sprecher (1986). They found that abnormally attractive individuals often endure resentment from members of their own sex, and suffer unwanted sexual advances. Furthermore, the more attractive persons rely solely on their appearance – which will inevitably wane with the passage of time – the less galvanized they will be to develop in other ways.

    The judicial arena is not immune to the biases when it comes to physical attraction. In a classic experiment Michael Efran (1974) surveyed University of Toronto students about the relationship between presumption of guilt and attractiveness; they emphatically exclaimed physical attraction should not affect the assumption of guilt. Nonetheless, after Efran interrogated different students with a photographs of both an attractive and an unattractive party, they determined the most attractive defendant was least guilty. Correspondingly, they advocated the lowest levels of punishment for that person,  as shown in the graph below.

    Additionally researchers have found that unattractive individuals are perceived as more menacing, especially in cases regarding sexual proceedings (Esses & Webster, 1988). Another pertinent study, performed by Chris Downs and Phillip Lyons (1991), discovered a pervasive tendency of Texas judges to distribute harsher, more serve punishments for their less attractive defendants. These studies demonstrate that justice is not blind to good looks, even for supposedly liberal minded college students, and impartial judges.

    Additional research performed by DeSantis and Kayson (1997), demonstrated this effect cross-applies to group situations as well. They confirmed that the attraction level of the defendant was influential in jurors' decisions, with attractive defendants receiving lesser sentences. Since juries are considered to be small groups, combined with the aforementioned individual studies, it is evident that physical attractiveness has the power to influence both the individual and groups in powerful ways.

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 16:32:07 . This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 Jan 1998. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman