Tag Archives: Status generalization

Attractive Men May Appear More Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts documented bias in favor of attractive people for hiring, venture funding decisions, and positive impressions by others.

In contrast, capable yet less attractive individuals may encounter “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” reported Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

Their four studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.

This bias can occur when observers associate unrelated characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, with expectations for behavioral performance (“status generalization”).

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

These associations may occur without conscious awareness or evidence, and can result in group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

In addition, these “status characteristics” significantly affected face-to-face interactions in group task studies by Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell.

Martha Foschi

Martha Fosch

Likewise, decision makers unconsciously associated attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates in one of Lee’s studies.

People’s choices of relational action based on perceived attractiveness are examples of “interpersonal interdependence,” according to UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina.

John Thibault

John Thibault

Lee’s group tested these ideas by assigning male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations in which participants interviewed and provided “hiring recommendations” for “job candidates.”
Interviewers were told they would be collaborating for shared team rewards yet competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Next, assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment.

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.

Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.

Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race, education and a manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes were affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggest that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.

-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?

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©Kathryn Welds

When Appearance Matters for Career Development

Linda Jackson

Linda Jackson

Numerous social science studies link perceived attractiveness with perceived competence and likeability, including a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda JacksonJohn E. Hunter and Carole N. Hodge.
They found that physically attractive people are perceived as more intellectually competent, based on their research on “status generalization” theory and “implicit personality” theory.

Women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly for attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds.
However, when raters looked at the faces for a longer period of time, ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks even though volunteers accurately distinguished between judgments of facial trustworthiness and attractiveness.

Nancy Etcoff

Cosmetics differentially affected automatic and deliberative judgments, found Massachusetts General Hospital’s Nancy Etcoff and Lauren E. Haley collaborating with Shannon Stock of Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston University’s David M. House as well as Sarah A. Vickery of Procter & Gamble.

Sarah Vickery

Sarah Vickery

Attractiveness was significantly related to positive judgments of competence, but had a less systematic effect on perceived social warmth.
Integrating these findings, the team concluded that attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Although most people recognize the bias inherent in assumptions that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, this correlation is important in impression management in the workplace, as well as in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

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How Much Does Appearance Matter?

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