This bias is even reflected in popular media. In mainstream films, for example, physically attractive characters are much more likely to play the lead and play ‘good’ rather than ‘bad’ characters. Consider, for example, the difference between the two versions of Monica in the hit sitcom "Friends." In her younger and less attractive version, Monica was depicted as being lazy, greedy, lacking self-control and unpopular. In her older and more attractive version, she’s none of those things.
The million-dollar question, of course, is how accurate these stereotypes are. In might turn out to be that attractive people really are more popular or happier, in which case it might make sense to judge a book by its cover. It turns out there might be a kernel of truth in this assumption. Recent work by Judith Langlois and her colleagues has suggested that, compared to less attractive individuals, attractive adults are in fact more popular and experienced daters.
It’s quite possible that differential judgment and treatment of attractive individuals lead them to internalize those judgments. In time, they might come to develop behaviors and self-perceptions that are consistent with those stereotypes. For example, if I’m constantly treated as though I were popular, in time I might come to believe that I really am more popular than most people and alter my behaviors to suit (say, by being more affable in my social interactions).
Do You Judge?
It’s important to note, however, that while attractive people may really be more popular and experienced daters, there isn’t much evidence to suggest actual difference along other dimensions. For example, some scholars have suggested that differences between attractive and less attractive people tend to be trivial, with very few (if any) differences in the real world. In other words, stereotypes we have about attractive individuals are really just that—stereotypes.
The other question you might ask is, “So what?” So what that we judge people differently based on their appearance? In a sense, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter whether we judge a book by its cover or not. The real problem is what happens when we treat people differently based on their appearance.
As I’ll show you in my next column, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that being attractive has its premiums. Until next time, though, have a think about how often you judge others based on their appearance.
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