We Assume Beauty Also Means Brains

As if pretty people didn't have enough already

Beauty and brains are the oft-citied qualities of a true catch. And whether or not it's true, when a person exhibits the former, we tend to think they have the latter, too.

As a result of beauty bias, we prescribe attractive people with positive traits they may or may not possess. New research published in the journal PLOS One reveals that along with being kind, trusting and more worthy of forgiveness, good-looking people are perceived as smarter, too.

Studying this phenomena is a little tricky: The perception of attractiveness and intelligence are both subjective and left up to the individual observer. In attempt to regulate study participants' definition of intelligence, researchers asked about other ratings that fall under the umbrella of "smart." They asked about conscientiousness and academic performance, two values that can be attributed to intelligence.

The study focused on photos of 100 students at the University of St. Andrews, limited to Caucasians in order to eliminate any potential racial bias from the study. To ensure as level playing field a possible, the students were told to make a neutral expression while being photographed, and not to wear any makeup or jewelry.

Then, 124 volunteers were asked to rate all 100 faces, scoring for attractiveness, conscientiousness, intelligence and academic performance. After analyzing the results, researchers found that students who were rated as more attractive were also ranked at a higher score for academic performance. But in actuality, there was no relationship between attractiveness and the real GPAs of the 100 students.

"Facial impressions have consistently been shown to influence our opinions as well as bias decisions in politics, leadership, law, parental expectations and punishments on children, military rank promotion, and teacher evaluations,” wrote the researchers, all members of the university's school of psychology and neuroscience.

What we learn from studying face perception, they said, is that we're often bad at judging books by their covers.

“These findings emphasize the misleading effect of attractiveness on the accuracy of first impressions and competence, which can have serious consequences in areas such as education and hiring,” the authors wrote.

It turns out straight genetics and privilege (in the form of access to beautifying products and services, for example) play a role in the opportunities people are afforded. The more we start thinking about and deconstructing our biases, the more everyone can maximize their full potential.

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