Attractiveness Bias (Principles of Design #75)

Aug 04 2017

People tend to see attractive people as more intelligent, competent, mortal and sociable than less attractive people. Thus, attractive people are seen more positively, receive more attention from the opposite sex, receive more affection from their mothers and receive more leniency from judges and juries. When everything else is equivalent, attractive people are more likely to be preferred in hiring and will earn more money in the same job. Most importantly, they tend to get more votes in elections.

The most famous example of attractiveness bias is the 1960 US presidential election, where in the presidential debate (the first in US elections), those who listened to the debate on the radio came to a different conclusion about the candidates than those who watched on TV. Nixon was ill and running a fever and wore light colours and no make-up, making his complexion even paler and contrasting his five o’clock shadow. By contrast, Kennedy wore dark colours, used make-up and had practised his delivery before the debate.

Kennedy was also marginally taller than Nixon, and the records show that, on average, winning presidential candidates are 1 inch taller than losing candidates. One of the largest height differences in history came in the most recent election where Donald Trump was 9 inches taller than Hillary Clinton.

Height is one sign of health and fertility, along with symmetrical features and teh right waist-to-hip ratio (0.7 for women and 0.9 for men). Absence of such features can indicate malnutrition, disease or bad genes, and such biological indicators of health are mostly innate and relatively consistent across cultures (young babies look longer at pictures of “attractive” people, whatever their age, race or gender.

In real life, men are attracted to women who exaggerate socially accepted features of sexuality (e.g., lipstick) and women are attracted to men who appear to have wealth and power (e.g., a big car). This has been proved empirically using descriptions of people and their appearance and occupation. Unlike women, men will never prefer unattractive women, even if they have a redeeming feature (such as financial status). However, environmental factors in perception of attractiveness vary considerably across cultures.

Attractiveness bias is an important concept for marketing and advertising, with certain appearances having a clear preference across the majority of people. However, marketers and advertisers should always consider the cultural appropriateness of images and culturally specific markers of attractiveness. While attractiveness is important, relevance is becoming increasingly important and especially local cultural relevance as the world globalises.

Attractiveness is a great advantage, but is not everything!

REFERENCES

Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden & Butler

Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff

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