The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”

Edward Vul

Edward Vul

Want to be seen as more attractive?  Be part of a group.

Individuals were rated as more attractive when they were observed in a group rather than alone, reported University of California, San Diego’s Drew Walker and Edward Vul.

This occurs because the brain’s perceptual system computes a statistical summary representation – “an ensemble,” and is biased toward perceiving the ensemble average as attractive, they wrote.

Individuals are perceived as more similar to the average group face, and this average face is more attractive than group members’ individual faces, thanks to a perceptual bias called the ”cheerleader effect.

Individuals who are judged attractive are also ascribed positive characteristics including good health, good genes, intelligence, and success as a result of attribution bias.

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham

Further, there’s consensus across cultures and genders on ratings of physical attractiveness, found University of Louisville’s Michael R. Cunningham, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, who collaborated with Alan R. Roberts of Indiana University and Chung Yuan Christian University’s Cheng-Huan Wu.

Features rated as most attractive for women include: 

  • High cheekbones and forehead,
  • Fuller lips,
  • Large, clear eyes,
  • Shorter jaw,
  • Narrower chin.
Alan Roberts

Alan Roberts

Women’s weight wasn’t as relevant to attractiveness as a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10 and Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20.85.

Preferred characteristics for men were a large jaw and brow, prominent cheekbones, and broad chin, with a waist-to-hips ratio for men is 9:10 and about 12 percent body fat.
Smooth skin, shiny hair, and facial symmetry were rated as attractive for both women and men.

Genevieve Lorenzo

Genevieve Lorenzo

Physical attractiveness focuses observers’ attention on attractive individuals, and enables more accurate assessments of personality traits based on brief interactions, according to University of British Columbia’s Genevieve Lorenzo and Jeremy Biesanz with Lauren Human of University of California, San Francisco.

Jeremy Biesanz

Jeremy Biesanz

Observers more accurately identified personality traits of physically attractive people  and these ratings were more similar to attractive people’s self-reported personality traits (“distinctive accuracy”).

Lauren Human

Lauren Human

These volunteers showed a positive bias toward attractive people and accurately identified the relative ordering of attractive participants’ Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability ⁄ neuroticism).

Nicholas Rule

Nicholas Rule

In addition, raters accurately evaluated CEOs’ competence, dominance, likeability, maturity and trustworthiness by viewing photographs of the executives’ faces in a study by University of Toronto’s Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, then of Tufts.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Thirty volunteers assessed CEOs’ “leadership success” based on appearance alone, and these rating were very significantly related to profitability of the organizations the CEOs led.

John Graham

John Graham

CEOs and non-executives unconsciously compete in a “corporate beauty contest,” and those viewed as attractive are assigned positive attributions, asserted John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke.

Photos of more than 100 white male chief executive officers of large and small companies were paired with with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing.

Campbell Harvey

Campbell Harvey

Nearly 2,000 participants assessed photos and rated CEOs as competent and attractive more frequently than non-executives.
However, volunteers were less likely to rate CEOs as likeable and trustworthy.

Those rated as “competent” earned more money, but in this study, CEO appearance wasn’t associated with company profitability.

Elaine Wong

Elaine Wong

Specific facial structures, not just attributed personality traits, were associated with superior business results, according to University of Wisconsin’s Elaine Wong and Michael P. Haselhuhn working with Margaret E. Ormiston of London Business School.

Firms that achieved superior financial results tended to have male CEOs with wider faces relative to facial height, particularly among organizations with “cognitively simple leadership teams.”

Margaret Ormiston

Margaret Ormiston

Evolutionary biology suggests that facial structure may be perceived as possessing trustworthy leadership skills, leading to attributions of competence, and igniting loyalty to follow.

-*What positive bias do you observe toward attractive individuals in the workplace? 

-*How do you harness the positive bias toward attractive individuals?

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One thought on “The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”

  1. Pingback: Self-Perceived Attractiveness Shapes Views of Social Hierarchies | Occupy Wall Street by Platlee

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