Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Halo Effect

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Physically attractive individuals are often viewed more favorably than unattractive people on dimensions that are weakly related or unrelated to physical looks, such as intelligence, sociability, and morality. Our study investigated the role of U.S. films in this beauty-and-goodness stereotype. In Study 1, we established that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions (e.g., intelligence, friendliness) across a random sample from 5 decades of top-grossing films. The link between beauty and positive characteristics was stable across time periods, character sex, and characters centrality to the plot. Study established that exposure to highly stereotyped films can elicit stronger beauty-and-goodness stereotyping. Participants watching a highly biased film subsequently showed greater favoritism toward an attractive graduate school candidate (compared with ratings of an unattractive candidate) than participants viewing a less biased film.

The quality of these films is completely beside the point, as they are only required to loyally express my personal worldview--punish the wicked, reward the attractive, and have as little to do with reality as possible.

-- Libby Gelman-Waxner ( 17 ; italics added)

Looks may not be everything, but physical good looks usually work in ones favor. Such is the conclusion of a quarter centurys worth of research on physical attractiveness (PA) effects. Do the mass media encourage or reinforce the pervasive stereotypes that link beauty and positive traits?

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Much of the work on the beauty-and-goodness stereotype was triggered by the report of K. K. Dion, Berscheid, and Walster ( 17 ), who found that what is beautiful is good in the eyes of many observers. In a variety of studies conducted since that time, physical good looks have been found to elicit many favorable reactions. Perhaps not surprisingly, people view physically attractive individuals as more desirable romantic partners ( Suman & Kureshi, 188). In addition, good-looking people are judged less likely to commit criminal acts ( Saladin, Saper, & Breen, 188), attractive defendants are more likely to receive lenient verdicts in mock trials ( Castellow, Wuensch, & Moore, 10), attractive infants are rated more favorably than less attractive ones ( Karraker & Stern, 10), good-looking children are judged to be more socially and academically capable than less physically appealing ones ( Kenealy, Frude, & Shaw, 188), grade school children prefer attractive teachers to unattractive teachers ( Hunsberger & Cavanagh, 188), and perhaps more alarming, mock jurors recommend harsher punishments for defendants who have raped an attractive woman than those who raped an unattractive woman (Kanekar & Nazareth,

The proposition that good-looking people benefit socially from their physical attractiveness has been investigated for some 0 years, beginning with the classic article by Dion, Berscheid, and Walster ( 17 ). Aronson ( 17 ) elucidated what has come to be known as the physical attractiveness stereotype We like beautiful and handsome people better than homely people, and we attribute all kinds of good characteristics to them (p. 16). In the years since, there have been numerous studies that one way or another test this what-isbeautiful-is-good phenomenon

Nancy is a year old woman currently attending the University of Saskatchewan. She is suffering from back pain that was caused by lifting a heavy object. She complains of pain when engaged in any activity that requires her to bend, lift, or carry.

The doctors evaluations revealed that they took the attractive womens symptoms less seriously, perceiving these patients as experiencing less pain, distress, and negative affective experiences than the unattractive women. It was not surprising, given these differential assessments, that the doctors also indicated greater concern and sympathy for as well as desire to help unattractive patients, whom they perceived as less healthy than attractive ones.75 Fortunately for unattractive individuals, these results indicate that doctors can overcome the tendency to be more helpful to those whose appearance evokes more positive feelings and trait attributions. On the other hand, the healthy appearance of attractive people may lead doctors to provide less treatment than their condition warrants.

Whether attractive patients receive less treatment may vary with the credibility of the patients complaint. The origin of the patients complaint in the foregoing case was lifting a heavy object, which is a moderately credible cause of back pain. However, when nurses were informed that routine tests had revealed either no cause for this symptom or a highly credible cause--a kidney stone--the attractiveness of the patient had no effect on their evaluation of the patients pain.76 Thus, moderately credible complaints of attractive patients are taken less seriously, whereas this is not true for complaints that have high or low credibility.

Although medical professionals may underrate the pain of attractive patients, they also interact more positively with them. Physicians who were watched through a one-way mirror while interacting with patients were observed to give more nonverbal attention and courtesy to the more attractive patients. Although such behaviors may have a salutary effect on health, it is not clear, on balance, whether attractive or unattractive patients will be advantaged in the medical care they receive. To the extent that placebo effects are strong, and they often are, positive expectations will benefit attractive patients. To the extent that more appropriate treatment derives from viewing the patients condition as more serious, unattractive patients will benefit.


Attractive people of both sexes and all ages are perceived to have more positive traits. This halo effect is shown in early infancy and in diverse cultures, although the particular traits ascribed to more attractive people

Physical Attraction Attributions

Chris Hendricks, Dawn Olson

Seth Hall & Jonathan Batt

Encompassing virtually all facets of human interactions, from societal attributions, to dating practices, from socioeconomic status, to biases in our very judiciary system, the effects of physical attractiveness on attributional analysis is profound. Social psychologists’ research suggests that elevated levels of physical attractiveness correlate positively with degrees of sociability, intelligence, success, and self-esteem, howbeit they have found negative relationships with honesty and concern for others (e.g., Feingold, 1; Jackson, Hunter & Hodge, 15). These findings have helped to outline a physical attractiveness stereotype � the theorem that physically attractive people possess socially coveted traits. Overall people make more positive attributions about physically attractive people as opposed to their less attractive peers (Hatfield & Sprecher, 186). Consequently, Cialdini (15) warns that these physically attractive individuals are more influential in changing attitudes and obtaining what they request.

We like others who are similar to us (Clark & Pataki, 15; 85); shown in a plethora of studies, similarity of attitudes fosters greater attraction in relationships. Furthermore, when factors such as age (Warren, 166), economic status (Byrne, Clore, & Worchel, 166), and personality (Caspi & Harbener, 10) also match, there is a greater likelihood that the attracted persons involved will end up as intimate partners. In a nine-month study of UCLA couples, Gregory White (180) discovered that the closer matched dating pairs in terms of physical attractiveness were more likely to have fallen more deeply in love. Despite this matching tendency, high status older men often marry beautiful younger women (Elder, 16). In these relationships, the less attractive partner offers counterbalancing qualities, such as status or wealth. This suggests that the asset-matching process may actually transcend the influence of the physical attraction-matching phenomenon. Accordingly, disapproving attributions about the motivation of the younger party’s interest -- such as she married him for his money -- may be justified.

Physical attraction’s influence has also been observed in the professional world as well. Cash, Gillen and Burns (177) have shown that job candidates are subject to the physical attractiveness stereotype, even by experienced personnel consultants. Additionally, as compared to their less attractive counterparts, attractive people tend to have more distinguished positions, earn more money, and characterize themselves as happier (Umberson & Hughes, 187; Diener, Wolsic, & Fujita, 15). One of the explanations that has been offered to explain these phenomena is the postulate that since physically attractive people are more estimable, they are able to cultivate an increased social self-confidence. Notwithstanding, the aforementioned positive affects of physical attraction are somewhat underscored by research conducted by Hatfield and Sprecher (186). They found that abnormally attractive individuals often endure resentment from members of their own sex, and suffer unwanted sexual advances. Furthermore, the more attractive persons rely solely on their appearance � which will inevitably wane with the passage of time � the less galvanized they will be to develop in other ways.

The judicial arena is not immune to the biases when it comes to physical attraction. In a classic experiment Michael Efran (174) surveyed University of Toronto students about the relationship between presumption of guilt and attractiveness; they emphatically exclaimed physical attraction should not affect the assumption of guilt. Nonetheless, after Efran interrogated different students with a photographs of both an attractive and an unattractive party, they determined the most attractive defendant was least guilty. Correspondingly, they advocated the lowest levels of punishment for that person, as shown in the graph below.

Additionally researchers have found that unattractive individuals are perceived as more menacing, especially in cases regarding sexual proceedings (Esses & Webster, 188). Another pertinent study, performed by Chris Downs and Phillip Lyons (11), discovered a pervasive tendency of Texas judges to distribute harsher, more serve punishments for their less attractive defendants. These studies demonstrate that justice is not blind to good looks, even for supposedly liberal minded college students, and impartial judges.

Additional research performed by DeSantis and Kayson (17), demonstrated this effect cross-applies to group situations as well. They confirmed that the attraction level of the defendant was influential in jurors decisions, with attractive defendants receiving lesser sentences. Since juries are considered to be small groups, combined with the aforementioned individual studies, it is evident that physical attractiveness has the power to influence both the individual and groups in powerful ways.

Levels of physical attractiveness have the potential to influence others in powerful ways. Attributions based on perceptions of physical attractiveness can either add to one’s status or stigmatize them. Males and females have different cognitive schemas about the attractiveness of the opposite sex. One’s gender determines the type of attributions he/she will make about another person, and how the person will view their own attractiveness. The focus of this tutorial will be on American culture and its population; however there are an infinite number of schemas about attractiveness existing in other cultures, and a few will be contrasted and compared with our own culture. [photo courtesy of AMG Advanced Media Group]

Before investigating the sub-topics of this tutorial, it is useful to review a variety of theories and studies on physical attraction that have been produced during the last few decades. First, three facts about attraction that most introductory psychology texts cite are proximity, similarity, and physical attraction. Since physical attraction is an important piece of the puzzle in the attraction game, much time has been devoted to studying its impact and implications.

Robert B Cialdini, an influential psychologist, has named physical attractiveness an important component in his weapons of influence. He noted that physically attractive people have an enormous social advantage in our culture; they are better liked, more persuasive, more frequently helped, and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capabilities (Cialdini 184). This advantage is earned due to the halo effect. This effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person, such as attractiveness, dominates the way a person is viewed by others.

Cialdini also mentioned that good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system. Kurtzberg (168) conducted a study where he had plastic surgery performed on inmates and found that once released, they were less likely to return to jail than those without the surgery. They were even less likely to return than those inmates who received rehabilitation services. A follow-up study done by Stewart (180) found that the surgery did not decrease the chances of the inmate committing another crime, but it did decrease the probability of being sent to jail for the crime.

Two other principles Cialdini related to physical attractiveness were the association principle and the contrast principle. First, advertisers use the association principle when trying to sell their product. Attractive models are used to link their desirability and beauty to the product being sold. The contrast principle can hinder attraction to certain individuals in a couple of ways. For example, if you were talking to a beautiful person at a party, and a less attractive person joined the conversation, the second individual will strike you as less attractive than he/she really is. Also, unrealistically attractive people, like models and actors, may cause you to be less satisfied with the looks of genuinely romantic possibilities available, as you may contrast them with the untouchable examples portrayed in the media. The heuristic operating in this situation is the availability heuristic. The ease of remembering examples in the media causes one to recall the extremely attractive people working in television and movies.

Stanley Schachter devised the two-factor theory of emotion that Dutton and Aron (174) were studying when performing their naturalistic study of interpersonal attraction. They found that when individuals were confronted by a confederate in an arousing situation (a high and unstable suspension bridge), the confederate was found to be more attractive than when in a non threatening situation (stable low bridge). This implies that external factors can influence our perceptions of attractiveness. The arousal experienced while on the high bridge could have been mislabeled as romantic love for the confederate, leading the individual to assume attractiveness.

Another interesting theory that applies to physical attraction is the reinforcement theory. With this conditioning paradigm, when a person is paired with a stimulus that elicits a positive affect or reward, the result is increased liking of that person. You may begin to like a person that is physically attractive because it is pleasing to look at that person- your own personal reward. The attractive person may also reap the benefits of being attractive, such as assumed intelligence. Attractive people experience a halo effect; one perceived positive quality favorably influences other attributions . Once a positive reward is associated with an individual, your liking of them will increase.

With respect to our cross cultural comparison, the Social Norms Approach discussed by Clark and Mills (17) may be helpful in understanding the rules of giving and receiving in different relationships. Communal relationships are characterized by feelings of responsibility to others and not by repaying favors. An exchange relationship on the other hand is characterized by giving for the sole purpose of repaying debts, such as with strangers or business acquaintances. These relationships may be applicable further when discussing individualistic versus collectivist societies. For example, when relating to others in your in-group, you may have communal relationships with everyone if you live as a part of a collectivist society. In an individualistic society, some people in your in-group will have an exchange relationship with you.

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