It’s tempting to believe that you’re immune to the power of a pretty face.
If someone acted unfairly toward you, you might think you’d respond the same way, no matter whether that person looked like Jennifer Lopez or Frankenstein.
Yet a new study suggests that physical attractiveness has a big impact on our behaviour. Specifically, the research found that men are more likely to tolerate unfairness from attractive women.
In the study, researchers led by Quingguo Ma, Ph.D., at Zhejiang University’s School of Management in China, recruited 21 Chinese men between ages 18 and 26. All participants looked at 300 photographs of faces of Chinese women who had previously been rated attractive or unattractive by another group of men.
Next, each man was shown a photo of one of the women and asked to decide whether to accept the woman’s offer to split a sum of money. Throughout the experiment, researchers measured the participants’ reaction times and brain activity.
Results showed that the men were more likely to accept unfair offers when the woman was attractive than when she was unattractive. They were also quicker to respond to fair offers and slower to respond to unfair offers when the woman was attractive. Meanwhile, the men’s brains showed more activity when they were dealing with an attractive woman.
Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t figure out exactly why the men were so swayed by beauty. But it’s likely that our behaviour is the result of unconscious processes. After all, the men in the study probably wouldn’t ever meet the women in the photographs — so it’s not like they thought that accepting the unfair offer would win them the women’s favour later on.
Anthony Little, a University of Stirling psychologist who was not involved in the study but has researched visual perception and attractiveness, told The Huffington Post: “We appear to have a bias toward being nice to attractive people even when the rewards to ourselves, such as increasing the chance of a date, wouldn’t apply. This suggests our motivations to be nice to attractive people are unlikely to be based on conscious decisions to maximise our own benefits.”
It’s unclear whether these findings apply to the general population. On the one hand, the sample size was small and focused exclusively on men. Yet on the other hand, this study adds to a growing body of research on what scientists call the “beauty premium” and the “plain penalty.” For example, studies have found that attractive people are more likely to be hired and promoted and earn more than their average-looking counterparts.
Ultimately, even if the “beauty bias” is largely unconscious, you can make a concerted effort not to let it affect your daily interactions. Whether you’re interviewing a job candidate or considering whether to accept a sales pitch, know that you may be partial to someone who looks like a movie star — even if they may not necessarily be the best fit for your organisation.
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