Beautiful people get lots of benefits in life, mainly due to something psychologists call the “halo effect,” which states that you’re biased to think that the people you’re attracted to are kinder, smarter, and more capable than they really are.
For that and other reasons, beautiful people are estimated to make 12% more than their less attractive peers. In fact, the income gap between attractive and unattractive people is comparable to the gap between genders or ethnicities.
But having Scarlett Johansson looks can sometimes backfire.
“Being good-looking can cost you opportunities — jobs, assignments, scholarships, promotions, and the like,” writes Columbia University professor Heidi Grant Halverson in her new book “No One Understands You And What To Do About It.”
If you make your interviewer feel insecure, they’re not going to help out your career.
“No one actually says to himself or herself, much less to others, I am threatened by this person, so there is no way I’m hiring this applicant,” Halverson says, “but that’s exactly what happens.”
In a 2011 experiment led by German psychologist Maria Agthe, 223 women and 162 men were asked to rate the job applications (which included a photo) of men and women seeking an editor position at a political magazine. As predicted, both sexes rated attractive people of the opposite sex more highly — and attractive people of their same sex less highly.
In a follow-up experiment, 265 psychology students were asked to rate the candidacy of people for a graduate scholarship, this time watching a video of the applicant. Again, people over-estimated the abilities of attractive opposite-sex candidates and discounted those of attractive same-sex candidates.
In another experiment, Agthe and her team asked 2,639 undergraduates to imagine themselves as the selection committee for a scholarship and pick the best of three finalists. They were given the finalists’ grades, major, demographics, extracurriculars, and a photo.
All of the candidates were white people in their 20s — very much in line with American society’s expectations of beauty — and those considered “highly attractive” were rated as 7.0 or above on a 10-point scale.
Again, the people who were most attractive were rated lowly by people of their same sex. The effect was especially strong for women, who “selected highly attractive female candidates only 11.7% of the time, significantly less than chance,” Agthe and her colleagues write.
Indeed, these may be examples of what University of Ottawa psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt calls “indirect aggression,” which she wrote about in a 2013 paper provocatively titled “Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy?”
“A clear way that indirect aggression serves an individual’s goal is by reducing her same-sex rivals’ ability, or desire, to compete for mates,” she wrote. “This is typically accomplished in a concealed way, which diminishes the risk of a counterattack.”
Like, say, in job interviews.
What can we do about it? Research on gender perception suggests that women who dress in masculine, sharply angled silhouettes at job interviews are considered more able than those who dress in flowing, feminine attire — so it’s probably a good idea to wear that blazer to your next interview.
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