Beauty and Success 1
Does Beauty Bring You Farther?:
The Connection between Physical Attractiveness and Success
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Beauty and Success 2
Does Beauty Bring You Farther?: The Connection between Physical
Attractiveness and Success
Theories have long supported the notion that what is beautiful is
good (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972). In the study entitled “What is
Beautiful is Good,” Dion et al. (1972) investigates the physical
attractiveness stereotype in a broad study that looks at how
attractiveness affects one’s perceived personality traits. The study also
looks at whether physical attractiveness leads to a better life. Studies
continue to focus on the question of how physical attractiveness affects
one’s success in life. Through factors of attractiveness including gender,
body size and age, it is apparent that physical attractiveness affects
success in three areas of life- popularity, perceptions of performance and
When looking at studies about physical attractiveness, researchers
often focus on gender, body size and age as three common factors. We
will first discuss these three different factors to understand what
researchers look at when considering physical attractiveness. Later, we
will explore the effects that physical attractiveness has on success,
specifically in three categories of life that were commonly found within
our eight studies.
Factors of Attractiveness
Physical appearance according to Dion et al. (1972) “is the personal
characteristic most obvious and accessible to others in social
interaction” (p. 285). Gender, body size, and age are important to focus
on when studying the most obvious and accessible characteristic that
people see – one’s physical attractiveness.
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Gender is one area often focused on when studying physical
attractiveness. In the studies we viewed, the outcomes of males and
females often differed because of gender. For example, in Schumaker,
Krejci, Small and Sargent’s (1985) study of loneliness in obese individuals,
researchers found that the connection between body size and loneliness ismore apparent in women than in men. Contrary to the previously
mentioned study, Reis, Wheeler, Spiegel, Kernis, Nezlek and Perri (1982)
found that male’s beauty is of greater consequence than female’s, at least
as the amount of socialization is concerned. This reveals that the effects
of physical attractiveness differ between the genders.
Body size plays a major role in physical attractiveness. A study
concerning obese individuals focuses fully on the effect body size has on
feelings of loneliness (Schumaker et al., 1985). In another study about
physical attractiveness and sexual experience, Wiederman and Hurst (1985)
used body size as a main determinant of one’s physical attractiveness. They
found that body size affected overall sexual experiences including dating
and intercourse. From these studies, we conclude that body size is a major
part of physical attractiveness and may affect one’s overall success.
In studies summarized in Perlini, Bertolissi and Lind (1999) it is
apparent that the “What is Beautiful is Good” stereotype plays a large
role throughout an individual’s life. Some studies have suggested thatolder people are judged to have unfavorable characteristics like frailty,
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slowness, and dependency. Since age naturally affects physical appearance,
Perlini et al. (1999) suggests that perhaps, “What is aged is less good”
(p. 343). Participants in this study viewed pictures of both attractive
and unattractive older and younger individuals. From these photographs,
they judged the social desirability of each person. The study found that
it was less socially desirable to be younger and unattractive than to be
older and unattractive. This shows that physical attractiveness plays a
larger role in the perception of younger women than in older women.
Overall age is an important factor of physical attractiveness.
Effects of Physical Attractiveness
After looking at the different ways researchers explore the concept of
physical attractiveness, we will now focus on the effects physical
attractiveness has one’s success. We were able to distinguish three
particular areas of life that physical attractiveness affected in various
studies. These effects include popularity, perception of performance and
Physical attractiveness plays a role in defining popularity from
childhood to adulthood. In a study by Boyatzis, Baloff and Durieux (1998)
they tested ninth graders to discover whether physical attractiveness or
academics is more important in deciding popularity. The researchers gave
each participant a hypothetical partner that they judged the popularity
of. Each hypothetical partner was described as either attractive with high
grades, unattractive with high grades, attractive with low grades or
unattractive with low grades. The results showed that attractiveness was
more important in determining popularity than grades.
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In relation to the previous study, researchers found that in adult’s
everyday exchange, physical attractiveness plays an important part in who
people choose to, or would rather interact with (Mulford, Orbell, Shatto &
Stockard, 1998). In the study, adult participants were recruited to choose
people to work with and cooperate with from a small group of other
subjects. At the end of the study, each participant rated the
attractiveness of the other subjects. This method is different from many
of the studies we looked at. In most studies, the participants did not
rate the attractiveness of the other subjects. A panel of judges not involved
in the study usually did the rating. The results of this study showed that
subjects were more likely to interact with people they found more
attractive. They were also more likely to cooperate with physicallyattractive individuals.
On the opposite end of the popularity spectrum, Schumaker et al. (1985)
looked at the connection between loneliness and physical attractiveness. The
researchers chose a sample of obese and nonobese individuals who rated their
feelings of loneliness through a survey. They found that obese individuals
were more likely to report feelings of loneliness than nonobese individuals.
Perceptions of Performance
Several experiments have been done to prove that individuals tend to form
impressions and make judgments about people on the basis of what they look
like (Landy & Sigall, 1974). In a study by Landy and Sigall (1974), they wanted
to find a direct correlation between physical attractiveness and performance
evaluation. Participants in the study read two different kinds of essays –
poorly written and well written. In each case, they were led to believe thatthe writer of the essay they read was either physically attractive or
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physically unattractive. The study found that attractiveness did matter in
judging essays – although the essay content and the way one looks has no
relation. If the person’s essay was above average, they were given high
scores no matter how attractive they were. However, if a person’s essay was
below average, attractiveness may help to receive a higher rating.
In another study that looked at people’s perceptions of performance and
physical attractiveness, participants watched tapes of Ronald Reagan and
Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential debate. They judged the two candidates on
physical attractiveness and expressiveness (Patterson, Churchill, Burger &
Powell, 1992). The study found that favorability ratings for Reagan were
higher than for Mondale. The higher ratings were partly attributed to Reagan’s
higher physical attractiveness. Overall, the study concluded that it was
likely that a more attractive Mondale could not have beaten Reagan,
considering he won by so much. However, in closer elections, like Kennedy’s
success in 1960, physical appearance could make the difference between winning
So far, many of the studies in this paper have focused on the first
impressions people have of others. In contrast with those studies, Reis et
al. (1982) focused specifically on social interactions between people who have
previously met. Each college student that participated in this study was told
to keep a record of items like the length, intimacy and quality of each
interaction they had. At the conclusion of the study, pictures of each
participant were taken and judged for attractiveness by unknown students.
Throughout this study, they found that attractive students had higher quality
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interactions than unattractive students. They also discovered that attractive
males had more interactions with females and less with males. However,
physical attractiveness did not relate to the quantity of interactions that
A study by Wiederman and Hurst (1998) narrows in on one specific aspect of
social interactions: sexual relations. The female participants filled out a
questionnaire booklet pertaining to relationship status and sexual
experience. A male and female judge rated their attractiveness, and their
body size was taken into consideration. Results showed that the participants
currently in a relationship were relatively smaller in size and more
attractive. Virgins were heavier and less attractive. Although physical
attractiveness played a role relationship status and virginity, it was
unrelated to the number of partners nonvirgins had in their lifetime.
When looking at the studies as a whole, it is clear that physical
attractiveness usually has an impact on success in one’s life. At first, we
assumed and had always believed that being physically attractive could only
bring about positive results for a person. Although that is true in many
cases, after reading these studies we discovered that being physicallyattractive does not necessarily render success.
Being physically attractive has many benefits. This is especially true
when dealing with perception. As seen in the studies, if one is physically
attractive, their work may be judged as higher quality (Landy & Sigall, 1974)
and they may be more likely to be trusted as a leader (Patterson et al.1992). If one is unattractive and produces stellar work, they probably will
Beauty and Success 8
not be discriminated against. However, if an attractive person produces any
quality of work, the work will be judged favorably. Similarly, physical
attractiveness is a positive factor when dealing with popularity. Popularity
influences success through peer relations (Boyatzis et al., 1998), makes one
less likely to be lonely (Schumaker et al., 1985), and makes one seem easier
to cooperate with (Mulford et al. 1998).
Physical attractiveness does not always bring success with it. We found
this to be especially true when viewing social interactions. For example, in
the study dealing with sexual relations, researchers found that the more
attractive a subject was, the more likely they were to have had sex (Wiederman
& Hurst, 1998). Of course, sexual intercourse is not always a determinant of
your success or happiness in life. In the study by Reis et al. (1982) we
found that physically attractive males interacted more with females than
males. Likewise, this conclusion does not always guarantee success.
Weaknesses of the Research
In looking at the quality of the studies, we have come up with a few
weaknesses. Many of the studies used college students as participants. This
is most likely because college students are accessible to researchers. We
believe just using college students could pose a problem and might skew the
results of the studies. College students already base many of their opinions
on physical attractiveness, because it is something that is deemed important
to them. These strong opinions might come out in the studies and make
physical attractiveness seem more important than it is. The studies could
have been improved if a sample of older people had also been used.
Another weakness of these studies is inherent to the topic of physical
attractiveness itself. What is considered physically attractive widely varies
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between individuals. Therefore, it is difficult to find an all encompassing
definition or sample of physical attractiveness. In the study dealing with
sexual relations (Wiederman & Hurst, 1998) the researchers only used two
individuals to judge the participants attractiveness. Two opinions of physical
attractiveness may not be enough to guarantee an accurate judgment. To
improve this study, the researchers could have followed the example of other
studies and used a larger panel of judges to consider what truly is and is not
Directions for Future Research
There are still topics left unanswered that spark our curiosity. Although
most studies had a broad focus on physical attractiveness, we are interested
to see what physical features impact overall attractiveness the most. For
example, is body size more influential than facial attractiveness? We are
also interested to see what skills are judged as less important than physical
attractiveness. Physical attractiveness outweighed academic skills in the
study by Boyatzis et al. (1998). We wonder if physical attractiveness mightovercome athletic ability, musical ability or any other talent.
Beauty and Success 10
Boyatzis, C., Baloff, P., & Durieux, C. (1998). Effects of perceived
attractiveness and academic success on early adolescent peer popularity.
Journal of Genetic Psychology, 159, 337-345.
Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.
Landy, D. & Sigall, H. (1974). Beauty is talent: Task evaluation as a
function of the performer’s physical attractiveness. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 299-304.
Mulford, M., Orbell, J., Shatto, C., & Stockard, J. (1998). Physical
attractiveness, opportunity, and success in everyday exchange. The
American Journal of Sociology, 103, 1565-1593.
Patterson, M. Churchill, M., Burger, G., & Powell, J. (1992). Verbal and
nonverbal modality effects on impressions of political candidates:
Analysis from the 1984 presidential debates. Communication Monographs,
Perlini, A., Bertolissi, S., & Lind, D. (1999). The effects of women’s age
and physical appearance on evaluations of attractiveness and social
desirability. The Journal of Social Psychology, 139, 343.
Reis, H., Wheeler, L., Spiegel, N., Kernis, M., Nezlek, J., & Perri, M.
(1982). Physical attractiveness in social interaction: II. Why does
appearance affect social experience? Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 43, 979-996.
Schumaker, J., Krejci, R., Small, L., & Sargent, R. (1985). Experience of
loneliness by obese individuals. Psychological Reports, 57, 1147-1154.
Wiederman, M., & Hurst, S. (1998). Body size, physical attractiveness, and
body image among young adult women: Relationships to sexual experience
and sexual esteem. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 272-282.
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