Like it or not, one of the most influential factors in romantic attraction is physical attractiveness. That’s right, hotness! While some may denounce or shy away from this fact for fear of sounding superficial, the dirty little secret is that we’re all subject to the “beautiful is good” belief.
Psychologists’ refer to this beauty bias as the “attractiveness stereotype,” and for decades they’ve shown that people have a tendency to assume that those who are physically attractive are not only desirable because they’re hot, but also because they are believed to possess a number of other socially desirable traits.1 For instance, highly attractive individuals are believed to be more articulate, successful, intelligent, and happier than their less attractive counterparts. Furthermore, it’s been shown that the beauty bias acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually leading more beautiful people to receive preferential treatment in a number of different domains, like income, evaluations, employment, and many social opportunities, including lower penalties for certain misdemeanors.2
Perhaps the most comical depiction of the attractiveness stereotype comes from the sitcom, How I Met Your Mother (see here for other lessons learned from this sage show). In the scene below, Barney explains his “crazy-hot” scale, whereby a man tolerates a woman’s craziness only to the extent that it is offset by an equal level of attractiveness. In a very matter of fact fashion, he recounts to his friends his past dating conquests, explaining that moderately hot women were allowed to be only moderately crazy, whereas very hot partners were granted excessive toleration for their eccentricities (including one who stabbed him with a fork!). Although his friends may not endorse his chauvinistic theories, we soon see that Ted and his then girlfriend (referred to only as “Blah Blah”) are a perfect example of not only Barney’s point, but the preferential treatment shown to highly attractive individuals.
While it pains me to share relationship theories with a character like Barney Stinson, in this case he has a point. Beautiful people are believed to be better on a number of dimensions and are thus treated accordingly. For most of us, this happens outside of our awareness and interestingly, even young children show these preferences and biases. So while it may seem shallow, my suggestion is to accept and embrace this knowledge. It doesn’t appear that the attractiveness stereotype is going away, so when getting ready for a first date or job interview, put your best (i.e., most attractive) foot forward! Who knows, your hotness might at least buy you a little excess toleration for when it’s your turn to act the fool.
1Berscheid, E, Dion, K., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 284-290.
2Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 380-423.
Dr. Sadie Leder – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Leder’s research focuses on how people balance their desires for closeness and protection against rejection, specifically during partner selection, goal negotiation within established romantic relationships, and the experience of romantic love, hurt feelings, and relationship rekindling.