Self-Perceived Attractiveness Shapes Views of Social Hierarchies

Nielsen Product SpendingCosmetic surgery is the fastest-growing medical expenditure in the U.S, and Americans spend more on personal grooming than on reading material.

Even during the recession of 2008, Americans spent at least $200 billion on products and services to enhance their appearances, according to Stanford’s Margaret Neale and Peter Belmi, now of University of Virginia.

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

Personal appearance and attractiveness have been linked with likeability, perceived competence, income and more, and Neale and Belmi found further connections between people’s self-perceived attractiveness and their attitudes toward social inequality and hierarchies.

Attractiveness Bias2The team asked participants to write about a time when they felt more attractive or less attractive, and then indicate whether they agreed with statements such as, “Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups,” and “Lower wages for women and ethnic minorities simply reflect lower skill and education level.”

The researchers found that people who think they are attractive also think they have greater social standing, and believe that people are entitled to their social position based on their personal (“dispositional”) qualities.

Occupy 99As a result, people who rate themselves as attractive generally feel that people in lower social strata are there due to their characteristics or behaviors.
These beliefs are associated with less willingness to donate money to a social equality non-profit organization (the Occupy movement).

Peter Belmi

Peter Belmi

By contrast, people who thought they were less attractive also thought they belonged to a lower-status social group, and rejected existing social hierarchies.
They attributed unequal social status to external factors often beyond the full control of those in less prestigious social groups. One example is lack of access to quality education.

Unlike self-perceptions of attractiveness, empathy and integrity were not related to people’s views of their social class and others’ place in society.

-*How have you seen appearance affect acceptance or organizational hierarchy and philanthropic giving?

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