Is Kindness Physically Attractive?

Posted on October 15, 2014

One of the most robust findings in social psychology is the beauty-is-good stereotype: physically attractive people are perceived and treated more positively than physically unattractive people. But here’s the thing: I have definitely met attractive people who went from hot to not the second they opened their mouths! Vice-versa, some people are so kind and awesome that you can’t help but be attracted to them.

Which has me wondering: I know beautiful is often perceived as good, but isn’t good also beautiful? I mean, I know we are an extremely looks obsessed culture, and research does show that the people we initially perceive as physically attractive tend to follow a very predictable pattern: they are average, symmetrical, and have hormone-dependent features [2]. But don’t things like character and goodness also factor into our perceptions of physical attractiveness?

Enter a new study by Yan Zhang and colleagues. The researchers randomly assigned Chinese participants to one of three groups and had them rate 60 photographs of unfamiliar Chinese female faces. All the photographs were taken from Google, and all of the faces had neutral emotional expressions. After two weeks, the participants rated the same pictures again. But this time, one group of participants were given positive personality descriptors of the people in the photographs (e.g., decent, honest), another group of participants were given negative personality descriptors (e.g., evil, mean), and the third group were given no information about the people in the photographs.

During the first rating, there were no significant differences in ratings of attractiveness among the three groups. But after the second rating, the group given positive personality descriptors of the people in the photographs rated them the most attractive, and the group given negative personality descriptors of the people in the photographs gave the lowest ratings to the photographs.

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Source material from Scientific American