Human Behavior Experiments Physical Appearance and Evaluations

About a human behavior experiment to determine what effect physical appearance plays on one's evaluation of other another's performance.



Title of Experiment: Beauty Is Talent: Task Evaluation as a Function of the Performer's Physical Attractiveness

Conducted by: David Landy and Harold Sigall, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y., in 1972

Reported in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 3. (1974), 229-304

Object: To test the hypothesis that individuals attribute more positive qualities and expect better performance from physically attractive people than from physically unattractive ones. It had been shown in several previous experiments and studies that teachers expected their physically attractive pupils to have better relationships with their peers and greater scholastic potential than unattractive students, and that students expected attractive peers to have more fulfilling careers and marriages than unattractive ones.

The Experiment: The experimenters prepared two essays, using as a topic the role of television in society. The essays discussed similar issues and were of equal length. However, one essay was well written, well organized, clear, and grammatically correct, while the other was simplistic, disorganized, full of cliches and errors in usage, and in general poorly written.

Two photographs of female students were selected from the college yearbook for use in the experiment. One was of an attractive coed, the other of a physically unattractive girl. Thirty copies were made of each of the essays, and pictures, supposedly of the author, were attached to 20 of them--the attractive coed in 10 cases and the unattractive one in 10. To the remaining 10 essays, no picture was attached.

The subjects, 60 male undergraduate psychology students, were asked to judge one of a number of essays that had ostensibly been submitted in a freshman English class. The men were told that the English instructor had assigned the essay to his students for submission to a contest being conducted by a local television channel.

When each subject had finished reading the essay, he was asked to evaluate it on a scale of one to nine on each of four dimensions: creativity, ideas, style, and general quality. In addition, he was asked to rate his impressions of the writer of the essay in four areas: intelligence, sensitivity, talent, and overall ability.

Conclusions: The attractive woman made a clean sweep in every category, with the greatest difference occurring when the poor essay was being rated. The experimenters suggested that "if you are ugly, you are not discriminated against a great deal so long as your performance is impressive. However, should performance be below par, attractiveness matters." They concluded that a beautiful person may be able to get by with inferior work because others expect that attractive people will perform well and therefore give them the benefit of the doubt when work is substandard or of dubious quality.

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