Call it the Beauty Pageant Paradox.
A new article titled “Calling Miss Congeniality – Do Attractive People Have Attractive Traits and Values?” published in Psychological Science suggests that beauty and character are more mutually exclusive than we make them out to be.
Researchers Lihi Segal-Caspi and Sonia Roccas of the Open University in Britain and Lilach Sagiv of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem set out to explore how the notion that “what is beautiful is good” plays out in reality.
They hypothesized that a beautiful woman would be perceived as more “agreeable, extroverted, conscientious, open to experiences and emotionally stable.”
And to some extent, this proved true.
But when these women filled out self-evaluations based on these traits, the researchers discovered that the women rated most attractive were also “more likely to endorse values focused on conformity and submission to social expectations and self-promotion.”
Translation (because you didn’t already know this): The more conventionally attractive someone is, the more they are likely to be, well, conventional in other ways.
Most of all, the research suggests a perception disconnect; often, we misguidedly assign positive character traits to someone who is attractive.
The study consisted of 118 university students assigned to be “judges” or “targets.” The researchers differentiated between traits and values and, indeed, the former proved far more associated with attractiveness than the latter. The judges only associated one out of the 10 assigned value types with attractiveness. “Attractive women were perceived as more likely to value achievement than less attractive women,” according to the press release.
Regardless, none of this was anywhere near as interesting as when the targets self-reported their traits and values.
The Telegraph responded to these findings today with an article titled “Why beauty is rarely worth it,” in which Stephen Bayley asserts that “beauty is a conformist conspiracy. And the conspirators include the fashion, cosmetics and movie businesses: a terrible Greek chorus of brainless idolatry towards abstract form. The conspirators insist that women – and, nowadays, men, too – should be uncreased, smooth, fat-free, tanned and, with the exception of the skull, hairless. Flawlessly dull.”
Yes, it’s easy to hate on all things superficial and to point out that society has a deeply entrenched bias against ugliness.
But it’s not as if this research will affect people’s attitudes. In the meantime, it might be worth addressing some of the questions left unanswered in this study: Do attractive people feel this way about themselves inherently or through conditioning? When people take steps to change their appearance, do their character traits and values change accordingly?
Beautiful people: The floor is all yours.