The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life




SUNY Series in Sexual Behavior, Donn Byrne and Kathryn Kelley, Editors

Published by State University of New York Press, Albany

© 1986 State University of New York

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

For information, address State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, N.Y., 12246

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Hatfield, Elaine. Mirror, mirror.

(SUNY series in sexual behavior)

Bibliography: p. 377


Dedicated to Charles Hatfield and Eileen Hatfield and Charles William Fisher and Abigail Sprecher Fisher



List of Tables

Chapter 1       GOOD LOOKS - WHAT IS IT?


Chapter 3       THE UGLY: MAD OR BAD?



Chapter 6       LET'S GET PHYSICAL





Chapter 11       SUSAN LEE: A CASE HISTORY




Societies' Preferences in Appearance

Satisfaction with Body Parts

The Relationship Between Looks and Career Success

Where Do Most College Couples Meet?

The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale

Percentage of Compliance with Each Request

Sexual Traits

The Beliefs vs. The Reality

6.3.  How Intimate Is Your Relationship?

6.4.  Reasons for Entering a Sexual Relationship

7.1.  Acceptable Weights for Men and Women

7.2.  Percent of Men and Women Exceeding Acceptable Weight by 20 Percent or More. A United States Health and

Nutrition Examination Survey, 1971-1974

9.1.  The Impact of Age Upon Body Image

9.2.  Consistency of Appearance and Self-Esteem, Body Satisfaction, and Current Happiness

11.0.  Scores on the MSIS

12.1.  The Effect of Dramatic Changes in Appearance


We would first like to thank our families for their ideas and support of this book. Elaine would like to thank Richard and Kim Rapson; Charles, Eileen, and Mary Hatfield; and Patricia, James, Jeremy, Joshua, Jordan, and Shayna Rich. Susan would like to thank Charles Fisher; Milton, Shirley, Terry, Dawn, Larry, Jan, and Cynthia Sprecher; and Bill, Sharon, Rebecca, and David Ring.

We would also like to thank our colleagues and friends who read drafts of the book: Geraldine Alfano, Leslie Donavan, Diane Felmlee, Gerald Marwell, Kathleen McKinney, Nancy Neuman, Gerelyn O'Brien-Charles, Terri Orbuch, Patt Schwab, and Robert Smith. Thanks to Amy Grever and Carol Yoshinaga for typing this manuscript and to Chris Peters from the University of Wisconsin for providing assistance on Illustrations. Charles Fisher helped secure permission to use the various tables, graphs, and quotations.

To all the men and women interviewed for the book we express our gratitude.


Figure 1.3   Reprinted with permission from Body and Clothes, by R. Broby-Johansen (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1966). Figure 1.5    Reproduced with permission of Pinacateca di Brera, Milan. Figure 1.6    Reprinted with permission from The Gibson Girl by S. Warshaw (Berkeley, Calif.: Diablo Press, 1968).

Figure 1.7   Illustration first appeared in Wiggins, Wiggins, and Conger, "Correlates of heterosexual somatic preference," /. of Personality and Social Psychology © 1968 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Figure 1.8    Reprinted with permission of Paul J. Lavrakas, "Female Prefer­ences For Male Physiques," /. of Research in Personality 9:324-334. Figure 1.9    Reprinted with permission of Janet C. Vidal, 1984. Figure 9.4    © 1982 Nancy Burson in collaboration with Richard Carling and David Kramlich. Figure 9.9   Courtesy Soloflex, Inc.

Figure 11.2    © 1981, Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Figure 12.1    Courtesy Baker-Van Dyke collection.


It is a pleasure to be asked to say a few prefatory words to this volume, which brings together under one cover for the first time what behavioral scientists have learned about the effects of physical attractiveness. Writ­ing this introduction is a special pleasure because the book's senior author, Elaine Hatfield, has played a major and seminal role in the development of this knowledge.

Because the general public has shown a great deal of interest in information about the effects of beauty, in the recent past many jour­nalists, freelance writers, and others have requested reprints of studies for writing their own books about the impact of physical appearance in our lives. However admirable these efforts may be, it is safe to say that none can have the authority and perspective of the pages that follow.

For one thing, researchers in an investigative area know where the bodies are buried—the "reasonable" hypotheses that turned out not to be so reasonable after all and whose disconfirming data now languishes

Al *

in dark file drawers, never to see the light of publication and dissem­ination. For another, researchers know how to evaluate and weigh the quality of data and know where the subtle interpretive traps lie. Most importantly, researchers who have worked on a problem for a long time remember when what seems so obvious and readily accepted today was not only not obvious in the past but even failed to meet rudimentary standards of common sense. In the case of the effects of physical attractiveness, they remember when there was a scientific taboo against recognizing and systematically studying this variable at all.

This taboo against the investigation of appeariential variables upon human behavior reigned not in psychology's dim and distant past, but was alive and well until relatively recently. Just twenty years ago, Gardner Lindzey, president of the Division of Personality and Social Psychology of the American Psychological Association, took the field to task for ignoring the influence of morphological variables, "even aesthetic attractiveness," upon behavior. His remarks, many of which were scathing, detailed many reasons for the then prevalent belief in the scientific community that the study of appeariential variables was an "unsanitary practice," one that relegated those who persisted in exploring them to the tawdry side of the street in the social and behavioral sciences.

A few years after Lindzey's comments, Elliot Aronson (1969) an eminent researcher in the area of interpersonal attraction, commented upon the curious absence of systematic examination of the effect of one morphological variable, physical attractiveness, upon behavior. He also offered one possible reason for its neglect. "It may be," he said, "that, at some level, we [researchers] would hate to find evidence indicating that beautiful women are better liked than homely women— somehow this seems undemocratic." Presumably, it would have been equally uncomfortable for researchers, most of whom at that time were male, to find that handsome men were better liked than homely men. His comment, however, reflected the belief of the day (still covertly held by some researchers in contrary to established fact) that if physical attractiveness did by any chance have some impact, that impact was probably confined to women—and to women of dating and mating age at that.

These professional injunctions to those attempting to understand the dynamics of human social behavior had little noticeable effect. Then, in 1966, Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues published a study whose findings could not be ignored. The occasion for the study was Hatfield's employment by the University of Minnesota Student Activities Bureau, requiring her to help construct the university's program for "Freshman Welcome Week". That this new Ph.D., a top-rated graduate of the Stanford doctoral program in psychology, found employment only in

an auxiliary service agency while her fellow male students secured prestigious professorships in psychology departments reflected the times and a different kind of societal taboo. Trained as a researcher and given a benevolent head of the bureau (who later recalled to a group of Minnesota faculty some of the unusual requisitions for research materials he signed while Hatfield was in his employ, including one, he remem­bered, for "chocolate-covered grasshoppers"), Hatfield saw her assign­ment to "do something" for Welcome Week as a research opportunity.

So, interested in the dynamics of interpersonal attraction, Hatfield decided to put together a "computer dance" for the incoming freshmen, a dance where purchase of a ticket would guarantee the student a date. The research question she asked was simple: Which dates, randomly paired, would like each other? Her hypothesis also was simple: People of relatively equal "social desirability" would hit it off better than people mismatched in social assets. But what determines a person's social desirability? "Personality" surely would be important, she rea­soned. Fortunately, all incoming freshmen had completed various kinds of personality assessment devices, so information on this score was available. "Social skills," too, could be expected to play a role, and information on this dimension was also available. "Intelligence," es­pecially in the college setting, undoubtedly would be an important asset, and, of course, all freshmen had submitted grade averages and completed aptitude tests to gain admittance to the university. These attributes headed the lists of all previous studies asking people what they looked for and valued in a date or mate. Thus, personality, social skills, and intelligence were to be combined into a "Social Desirability" score for each person buying a ticket to the dance.

At the last minute, however, Hatfield had an afterthought. She asked the students selling tickets to the dance to jot down their impres­sions of the physical attractiveness of the purchaser. Needless to say, these impressions provided only rough assessments. In the general confusion surrounding the ticket sale and in the few seconds it took to take money, make change, and issue a ticket, the ticket-taker's impression could not have much reliability and validity and thus could not be expected to predict much of anything. Nevertheless, the data were collected and analyzed.

I was a graduate student in the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations at the time and remember well when Hatfield was asked how the computer dance study had "turned out". "It was a flop," she said. Her "matching hypothosis" had not been confirmed. People of equal social desirabilities did not like each other better than mismatches. In fact, she went on, there was only one predictor of whether a person would like his or her date and, in the case of men, whether he would actually make an effort to contact the date again. That predictor was

those rough physical attractiveness assessments. The more physically attractive a person was, the more they were liked by their date. This predictor held true whether the person was a woman or a man.

This news was greeted by total silence. Finally, someone said, "That was it?" "That's it," she replied. "Intelligence, social skills, personality— they didn't predict." Needless to say, these results cast a pall over the lab. The finding was embarrassing. Among other things, it gave the lie to our collective professions that what we really valued in potential dates and mates was a good personality—honesty, kindness, and all the other sterling virtues. The finding also mocked the advice, then routinely given to those who found themselves lonely and rejected, to wit: "Improve your personality and your character!"

It was not, of course, that we didn't suspect appearance played some role in how a person was regarded by others. But this was the early sixties—when appearance was almost universally regarded as a frivolous and superficial attribute. At this time people requesting plastic surgery to modify some aspect of their appearance were routinely subjected to tests to ascertain that they were free of psychopathology— a certification difficult for the candidate to achieve since a request for plastic surgery was itself considered a symptom of neuroticism. During this era the only reasonable justification for orthodontal surgery and treatment, or indeed routine dental treatment, was considered, by in­surance companies, dentists, and clients alike, to be improvment of "function"—not aesthetic appearance.

All that, and more, has changed. For example, judges, juries, and lawyers representing clients whose appearance has been adversely al­tered through the negligence of others now take into consideration more than just impaired physical function. The probability that a disfigurement also leaves the victim with impaired self-esteem and impaired social and economic opportunities is also considered. The dental profession now worries about more than whether their treatment will leave the patient with the perfect "bite". Finally, therapists and counselors do not automatically conclude that social rejection is always the result of unattractive interior qualities.

Many of these changes can be traced back to that first uncomfortable and embarrassing finding, and to the fact that Elaine Hatfield was not content to bury her data. Against the advice of some senior colleagues, who believed the finding was "theoretically uninteresting" and therefore unworthy of consideration by professional journals, she wrote up her "serendipitous finding," as she called it then, and so the effort to trace the dimensions of this variable upon people's lives began in earnest.

All good researchers must be willing to observe not only that the emperor's new clothes are not magnificent but, when necessary, to call

attention to the fact that he seems to be parading around in his underwear. Fortunately, researchers are not often called upon to make such assertions. When they are, however, and when they persist in their contention that we seem to be kidding ourselves, our understanding of our world changes; thus, our ability to make reasonable and con­sidered choices for ourselves and for our own lives expands.

Since providing better information for making life choices is the bottom line of all research, I was particularly pleased to see that the relative importance of physical attractiveness is not ducked in the final chapters of this book. Just as it was wrong and misleading to under­estimate the impact of physical attractiveness in peoples' lives, it is surely equally wrong to overestimate it—to forget that decisions on expending time, money, and energy to improve or maintain attractive­ness have to be made in the context of many other considerations, and that while making gains on the attractiveness dimension, other things, often of greater value, may be lost.

I cannot resist concluding these comments with the most recent example of the effects of a single-minded determination to place beauty above all other considerations. The example comes not from the United States, with its multibillion dollar cosmetic industry and infinite numbers of diet centers, fat farms, and physical fitness and rejuvenation spas. It comes from Communist China. Concerned with the growing number of unwed men and women in their country, the Chinese government recently sponsored a nationwide campaign to "pair them off". To that end, "night dancing parties," marriage introduction services, and or­ganized singles outings were introduced. The government's campaign, however, was a failure. Why? Apparently there are not enough "beau­tiful people" to go around. The People's Daily (as reported by the Associated Press in The Minneapolis Star and Tribune, August 31, 1984) complains: "Men's and women's criteria for selecting mates are not practical. The situation is unsettling. When matchmaking workers ask a man what kind of mate he desires, he says, T want a beautiful woman.' The result is they do not find anyone suitable." Apparently the joys of marriage and parenthood combined with governmental sanc­tion and enticement do not outweigh, at least in contemporary Chinese eyes, the discomfort of being paired with someone who does not meet their high standards of beauty.

Is this subject "theoretically uninteresting"? That apples fall down, rather than up, must have seemed just as theoretically uninteresting at one time. But no one interested in predicting the trajectory of an apple loosed from its bough could afford to ignore that mundane fact, and

no effort to understand human behavior in general, and social interaction in particular, can afford to overlook the factor of appearance.

Ellen Berscheid

Minneapolis, Minnesota September, 1984


We all face a fundamental paradox. We have to admit that appearances matter. We know that small details of our appearance can be critical determinants of how well we will do in love, at work, and in life. And yet . . . and yet. Each of us knows we do not really "measure up," and we feel slightly ashamed that we expect other people to do so. How can we deal with this dilemma? This book will attempt to address that issue.

In chapter 1 we ask, "What is good looks?" and review what anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists know about that ques­tion. We examine whether there is any agreement both between and within cultures as to what is considered beautiful or handsome.

In chapters 2 and 3, we review the evidence that, in the main, people believe "what is beautiful is good and what is ugly is bad." We will discover that people believe good-looking people possess almost all the virtues known to humankind, and that, as a consequence, they treat the good-looking/ugly very differently.

In chapters 4, 5, and 6, we discuss how well attractive versus unattractive persons fare in the dating, mating, and sexual marketplaces. We review several studies indicating that although most people desire attractive partners most often, because of the dynamics of supply and demand, they end up pairing with someone of about their own level of attractiveness.

We turn to more specific physical characteristics in chapter 7. We discuss the stereotypes held about people with specific physical char­acteristics. We explore the impact of height, weight, and such incidentals as hair color, eyes, and beardedness on our social encounters.

In time, most people come to see themselves as others see them— to act as others expect them to act. Eventually, good-looking and unattractive people become different types of folk in their self-images, personalities, and interactional styles. In chapter 8, we examine this reality of physical attractiveness.

In chapter 9, we trace the impact of beauty through the life cycle. We examine what happens to our bodies as we age and how this change affects other areas of our lives. We discover that beauty begins to matter in the nursery and continues to matter through old age.

Throughout the majority of the book we discuss the pleasant aspects of being attractive. Yet every silver lining has its cloud. The ugly truth about good looks, the disadvantages, are discussed in chapter 10.

This discussion leads us to the question of what to do if we are unattractive. Is it worth it to try every means to make ourselves more appealing? Cosmeticians, beauticians, orthodontists, and plastic surgeons would lead us to believe that we can (and should) do all we can to improve our looks. But such enterprises have serious costs even in the short run. They are expensive, exhausting, and require us to focus almost every waking moment on being something we are not. Worse yet, people banking everything on looks may find they have won the battle but lost the war. In the end, and in spite of evidence we have cited heretofore, factors other than beauty turn out to be important in producing life-long happiness. In chapters 11 and 12, we present what social psychologists and therapists have to say about the advantages and disadvantages of trying to improve our appearance. We learn that most of us do our best if we engage in fulfilling activities—concentrating on sharpening our skills in intimacy, pursuing friendship, investing energies in our careers. Apparently, what is important is to accept ourselves as we are and to set out on a search for what life has to offer.

Chapter 1


When we were deciding how to write this book, our first step was to gather a great sampling of people. We sought people very different from one another—men and women of various races, ages (3 to 97), and occupations; people strikingly good-looking to downright homely; people who had very different life experiences. These are the people who make up THE GROUP. We began by asking THE GROUP: "If you came upon a 2,000 ad. computer capable of answering your deepest, most hidden questions about beauty and handsomeness, what would you ask?"

THE GROUP'S reply was quick: "What is it?" They mentioned people they thought were strikingly beautiful or handsome ... or painfully ugly—"What makes these people so distinctive?" Then, THE GROUP began, shyly, to ask more personal questions: "Do you think I'm good-looking?" "What's my best feature?" "My worst?" "What would I have to do to be really good-looking?" "What's it like to be extraordinarily good-looking?"


Figure 1.1.   A tribesman admires his ceremonial appearance. Photograph by Jack Fields, 1969.

In this book, we will try to provide social psychologists' answers to all these questions and more. But first, we will have to begin at the beginning and discuss, "What is this thing called good looks?"

•   How would you define good looks? Could you explain what a "beautiful woman" and "handsome man" are to a blind person?

•   Who are the most attractive men and women you ever saw? What makes them so appealing?

•  Who is the homeliest person you ever saw? What made him or her so unappealing?


Webster's New World Dictionary defines good looks as:

BEAU TI FUL (byoot'e fel) adj. having beauty; very pleasing to the eye, ear, mind, etc. —interj. an exclamation of approval or pleasure —the beautiful 1. that which has beauty; the quality of beauty 2. those who are beautiful — beau'tifully (-e fie, -e fel e) adv. SYN.—beautiful is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one's conception of an ideal; lovely refers to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration; handsome implies attractiveness by reason of pleasing proportions, symmetry, elegance, etc. and carries connotations of masculinity, dignity, or impressiveness; pretty implies a dainty, delicate, or graceful quality in that which pleases and carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness; comely applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high (From D. B. Guralnik, Webster's New Simon and Schuster, 1982], 124, 634.)

degree of beauty; fair suggests beauty that is fresh, bright, or flawless and, when applied to persons, is used esp. of complexion and features; good-looking is closely equivalent to handsome or pretty, suggesting a pleasing appearance but not expressing the fine distinctions of either word; beauteous, equivalent to beautiful in poetry and lofty prose, is now often used in humorously disparaging references to beauty—ANT. ugly HAND-SOME (han'sem) adj. [orig., easily handled, convenient < ME. handsom: see hand & some1] 1. a) [Now Rare] moderately large b) large; impressive; considerable [a handsome sum] 2. generous; magnanimous; gracious [a handsome gesture] 3. good-looking; of pleasing appearance: said esp. of attractiveness that is manly, dignified, or impressive rather than delicate and graceful [a handsome lad, a handsome chair] —SYN. see beautiful hand'somely adv. — hand'someness n. World Dictionary: Edition 2 [New York:

By physical attractiveness we mean that which best represents one's conception of the ideal in appearance and gives the greatest pleasure to the senses.

At first glance, it seems easy to say what is appealing, what is not. For example, early I.Q. testers assumed that any intelligent person could easily tell which is which. The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (1937 edition) asked children to look at two line drawings and to indicate which woman was pretty and which was ugly. The "pretty" face had fine, delicate features and a neat hairdo, while the "ugly" face had a large nose, a large mouth, and unkempt hair. Obviously, the test constructors assumed they knew what beauty was and that any "bright" child would agree with them. Unfortunately, however, things are not so simple. The search for a standard of beauty has been a long one.

The Search for a Universal Beauty

Thoughtful people have spent an enormous amount of effort trying to discover what is universal about beauty. Greek philosophers were convinced that the Golden Mean was the basic standard of beauty (see Hambidge 1920; or Plato 1925). The Golden Mean represented a perfect balance. To be extreme was to be imperfect. (So much for the rare and exotic.) The Greeks' theory was elegantly, brilliantly simple. Unfortu­nately, it was wrong. The Romans were more interested in the rarities of particular faces and persons. Conceptions of ideal beauty resurfaced in the Christian era (see Figure 1.2).

In more recent times, Charles Darwin's efforts to define beauty are worth noting. Charles Darwin realized it was critically important for anthropologists to know what various peoples considered sexually ap­pealing. Only then could they predict the course of sexual selection and, ultimately, human evolution. Darwin tried but failed. After sur­veying the standards of various tribes throughout the world, Darwin concluded: "It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of many any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body" (1952, 577).

Henry T. Finck (1887) was the first early psychologist to pose a theory of beauty. Finck is a delight to read. It makes one feel smugly superior to encounter someone so self-righteous, so opinionated . . . and so wrong. Finck's singular thesis was that primitive people were nature's "experiments." Humankind started out, he thought, exceedingly ugly. But humankind continued to evolve, becoming more perfect, better-looking, all the time. Finally, evolution and good looks reached a pinnacle in the upperclass English gentleman. (Luckily, Henry Finck happened to be in just this category.)

Figure 1.2.    Leonardo da Vinci, Illustration of Proportions of the Human Fig­ure, c. 1485-1490, pen and ink, 13% X 9%.

This tendency—to assume our own group contains the best of everything—is common. One example: Dental surgeons face the ex­traordinarily difficult task of developing a universal standard of beauty. (The only way to know whether orthodontics has helped or hurt is to have a standard of perfection against which to compare your work.) Most orthodontic indices, beginning with E. H. Angles' classification in 1908, have used an arbitrary classification standard. In each case, the test constructors selected their own face as the ideal! This unconscious chauvinism has had an ironic result. Since the dentists involved in scale development have been Europeans, when dentists in Hawaii tried to use the scales with Asian or black populations they soon discovered almost all their clients needed their teeth straightened. Finckism strikes again! (See Giddon [1980] or Uesato [1968] for a further discussion of this point.)

Finck attempted to provide a feature by feature analysis of what is good-looking. He began his dissertation with "The Evolution of the Big Toe" and moved slowly upward. The flavor of Finck's appalling Victorian smugness is recaptured in his opening passage:

. . . Concerning savages, there is a prevalent notion that, owing to their free and easy life in the forests, they are healthier on the average than civilized mankind. As a matter of fact, however, they are as inferior to us in Health as in Beauty. Their constant exposure and irregular feeding habits, their neglect and ignorance of every hygienic law, in conjunction with their vicious lives, their arbitrary mutilations of various parts, and their selection of inferior forms, prevent their bodies from assuming the regular and delicate proportions which we regard as essential to beauty. (1887, 76)

Finck then itemized each trait—the feet, limbs, waist, chest, etc.— and explained why the Victorian gentleman surpassed all others in beauty appeal. (In a short 467 pages, he managed to insult every existing ethnic group.) The Hungarians are "of a repulsive ugliness in the eyes of all their neighbors." "The typical Jew is certainly not a thing of beauty. The disadvantages of genuine separation are shown not only in the long, thick crooked nose, the bloated lips, almost suggesting a negro, and the heavy lower eyelid, but in the fact that the Jews have proportionately more insane, deaf mutes, blind, and colour-blind" than other Europeans (p. 89). "The women of France are amongst the ugliest in the world" (p. 390).

What about the Americans? Finck quotes Lady Amberley:

They all looked sick. Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Eu­rope, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and col­ours the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo; and I am always equally surprised on my return

by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anaemia, and neuralgia, (p. 445)

Such was the tenor of Finck's scientific discussion. The problem with Finck's careful enumeration of ideal traits is that nowhere can we take him seriously.

The dream of anthropologists of discovering what constituted "uni­versal beauty" was finally laid to rest in a landmark survey. Clelland Ford and Frank Beach (1951) studied more than two hundred primitive societies. They were unable to find any universal standards of sexual allure. Different cultures could not even agree completely as to what parts of the body were important. For some peoples, the shape and color of the eyes was what really mattered. For others, it was height and weight. Still others went right to the center of things—what mattered was the size and shape of the sexual organs.

To complicate things still further, even if two societies agreed on what was important, they rarely agreed about what constituted good looks in that area. For example, in some societies (like our own), a slim woman is the ideal. The opposite, however, is true in most other societies—the fatter the better. Table 1.1 lists traits people in various societies have considered hallmarks of beauty.

TABLE 1.1    Societies' Preferences in Appearance


Slim body build Medium body build Plump body build




Narrow pelvis and slim hips Broad pelvis and wide hips



Small ankles Shapley calves



Upright, hemispherical breasts Long and pendulous breasts Large breasts

2 2 9

Large clitoris Elongated labia majora

1 8

Note: Although Ford and Beach discuss the impact of "man's" appearance on sexuality, in this case "man" means "woman." Although the authors do not itemize the traits constituing handsomeness, other information makes it clear that in various societies there is equal disagreement as to what handsomeness is.


In many societies, the face—delicate boned or broad and sensual—is all that really counts.

Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1929) observed that, for the Trobriand Islanders: ", . . It is a notable fact that their main erotic interest is focused on the human head and face. In the formulae of beauty magic, in the vocabulary of human attractions, as well as in the arsenal of ornament and decoration, the human face—eyes, mouth, teeth, nose and hair—takes precedence" (pp. 295-296).

Those societies that are experts on the face do not agree as to what kind of face is best. Most peoples consider light skin to be most appealing. But many, like the Pima, prefer dark skin; some, like the Dobuans, consider albinos to be particularly repulsive. For the Wogeo, things are even more complicated: tawny-colored Wogeoians prefer light-skinned mates; the cocoa colored prefer dark-skinned mates.

Figure 1.3.    In some African tribes, the women insert pieces of wood as large as plates behind their lips. Ubangi women.


In many societies, good looks equals a good body. But again, even the societies that worship fine bodies do not agree on what constitutes a good body. In most societies, robust women are seen as possessing the most sex appeal. Clelland Ford and Frank Beach observe:

[Holmberg writes of the Siriono:] Besides being young, a desirable sex partner—especially a woman—should also be fat. She should have big hips, good sized but firm breasts, and a deposit of fat on her sexual organs. Fat women are referred to by the men with obvious pride as EreN ekida (fat vulva) and are thought to be much more satisfying sex­ually than thin women, who are summarily dismissed as being ikdNgi (bony). In fact, so desirable is corpulence as a sexual trait that I have frequently heard men make up songs about the merits of a fat vulva .... (1951, 88-89)

In many primitive societies, people are balanced on the fine edge of survival. A fat wife is a status symbol. She graphically illustrates her husband's ability to provide ... to excess.


It is easy for us to understand how critically important sexual char­acteristics are. The question "Are you a breast man, a leg, or an ass man?" attests to Americans' focus on sexual traits. American men have long been fascinated by big breasts (Morrison and Holden 1971). In 1968, Francine Gottfried of Brooklyn—a twenty-one-year old whose measurements were 43-25-37—generated a riot among staid, Wall Street businessmen simply by walking to work in the morning. At first, only a few bankers, brokers, and clerks waited on the street corner to watch her walk by. Then the crowds grew. The news media began to report on the phenomenon. The crowds swelled. On September 21, 1968, a cheering crowd of more than 10,000 jammed Broad Street (in front of the New York Stock Exchange) and nearby Wall Street. Newspapermen and cameramen from as far away as Australia waited for pictures. Ticker tape floated down from the buildings. Police stood by with bullhorns. In the pushing and shoving, some in the throng were nearly trampled. There was the distinctive thumping sound as the metal roofs of four automobiles buckled under the weight of excited spectators, who had climbed on top for a better view. Francine Gottfried of Brooklyn did not enjoy the spectacle as much as the bankers. She failed to put in an appearance (New York Times, 21 Sept. 1968).

Americans' obsession with breasts might tempt you to assume the fixation is a cultural universal. It is not. In different cultures, the "ideal"

±\J           .....--------

size and shape of a woman's breasts vary. Some peoples prefer small, upright breasts. (The Wogeo think breasts should be firm with the nipples facing outwards. A young girl with pendulous breasts, "like a grandmother," is pitied.) Other peoples like long and pendulous breasts. For some peoples the external genitals, the labia majora and minora and the penis, are important. In many societies, elongated labia majora are considered erotically appealing. Young girls are advised to pull the clitoris and the vulvar lips to enhance their sex appeal. Before puberty, girls on Ponape undergo treatment designed to lengthen the labia minora and to enlarge their clitoris. Impotent old men pull, beat, and suck the labia to lengthen them. The girls put black ants in their vulva so that their stinging will cause the labia and clitoris to swell. In America, most men are not particularly focused on this area. Pornographic magazines featuring "beaver shots" appeal to a minority. (Another society's ob­sessions always seem strange to us.)

In many societies, men's sexual organs are equally important. In the New Hebrides, men choose to emphasize their sexual appeal (see Figure 1.4). Anthropologist B. T. Sommerville (1984) observed:

The natives wrap the penis around with many yards of calico, and other materials, winding and folding them until a preposterous bundle of eighteen inches, or two feet long, and two inches or more in diameter is formed, which is then supported upward by means of a belt, in the extremity decorated with flowering grasses, etc. The testicles are left na­ked, (p. 368)

In the 1600s European men often wore codpieces in a similar effort to emphasize their assets. Originally, a codpiece was a metal case to protect men's genitals in battle. Eventually it became a gaudy silk case of colors contrasting with the rest of the costume. Sometimes it was enlarged with stuffing and decorated with ribbons and precious stones (see Figure 1.5).

Lest other society's obsessions with men's genitals seem exotic, note that Rolling Stone once devoted an entire issue to describing how magazines such as Playgirl and Viva test, cajol, and massage the cen­terfold's penis to just the right stage of arousal (McCormack 1975). Elvis Presley often used a toilet paper tube under tight pants while performing on stage to augment his penis size (Wallace 1981).

As we have seen again and again, however, only a few societies focus on the external genitals, and those that do fail to agree on what constitutes beauty. The New Hebrides model and the Marlboro man are miles apart.

Figure 1.4.    In the New Hebrides, men wrap their penes in cloth to form an impressive bundle, held in place with a leather belt. Courtesy   Muse'e de 1 Homme, Paris.

Figure 1.5.   Portrait of Antonio Navagero by Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1565.


Today, scholars have admitted defeat in their search for a universal beauty. After a painstaking search, after numerous false leads, all their hopes of uncovering such ideals have been shattered. Anthropologists have ended where they began—able to do no more than point to the dazzling array of characteristics that various people in various places, at various times, have idealized.

(Reading this research, one feels a sense of irony. Most of us spend so much time worrying about our bodies, trying to emphasize our "good points" and minimize our "bad" ones. It is disconcerting to realize that with a slight change of time or place all these standards would be turned topsy-turvy.)

Although anthropologists have also been unable to unearth any universal standards for good looks (or for bad looks) within any society, there is, however, considerable agreement on what is appealing and what is not.

The Search for a Local Beauty

In Western society, the media promotes a standard of beauty. Gerald Adams and a colleague (Adams and Crossman 1978) describe television's image of beauty:

Masculinity is judged by overall appearance and impression. The com­mercials on television will suggest the main attributes a man needs to be considered attractive and desirable. "The dry look" is important. "Reaching for the gusto" is absolutely essential. Using Right Guard and smelling of Brut, English Leather, Old Spice, Musk or one of a half dozen other men's colognes are also necessary. And depending upon the "type", he will drive a certain make and model of car, smoke a certain brand of tobacco, and above all, read "Playboy" magazine. He doesn't have to have a face like Paul Newman or Robert Redford, or a phy­sique like Adonis, though it won't hurt if he does. Primarily, he must be trim, rugged but not too rugged, manly, and have a nice smile. Fem­ininity, on the other hand, is characterized by perfection in every detail. Unlike masculinity, femininity cannot be acquired merely by using the right deodorant and applying a number of external props. A woman must have hair with body and fullness that is marvelously highlighted. Each feature must be an equal contributor to her pretty face. She must have eternally young and blemish-free skin. Her figure must not only be trim, but meet certain "idealized" standards to be considered beautiful. Her hands must be silky soft and not too large. Her nails must be long and perfectly trimmed. Her legs must be shapely, firm, and preferably long. To attain all this, she must "enter the garden of earthly delights" and use "Herbal Essence Shampoo"—hair conditioners scented with lemon, strawberry or apricot, which give marvelous body . .  . and rinse or dye, which will make her the "girl with the hair". Her skin must be nurtured with moisturizers and emollients so she can look eternally young. Her figure should surpass that of a Greek goddess by being am­ply bosomed and slim waisted, but rounded in the hips. As for her legs, "gentlemen prefer Hanes." For finishing touches, she should use "sex appeal toothpaste" and put her "money where her mouth is". She should know that "Blondes have more fun" and Lady Clairol blondes have the most fun of all. For a foundation, she should wear the "cross

your heart bra" and never be without her "18-hour girdle". Finally, above all else, her beauty must look natural, (pp. 21-22; reprinted by permission of Libra Publishing)

Americans and Europeans agree with the media on what is appealing and what is not. In a typical study (this one conducted in Great Britain), Iliffe (1960) asked readers of one of the large newspapers how "pretty" they thought twelve women's faces were. The photos where chosen to represent as many types as possible—they varied in slope of eye, coloring, shape of face, etc. Thousands of readers replied, the critics ranging in age from eight to eighty. They came from markedly different social classes and regions, yet they had similar ideas about what is beautiful. (Additional evidence that, within a society, there is consensus on what is beautiful comes from the work of Cross and Cross [1971] and Kopera, Maier, and Johnson [1971].)

We asked THE GROUP what traits they thought made men and women appealing. Here are some of their answers.

A physically attractive woman is someone with beautiful hair, expressive eyes, high cheekbones, perfect breasts, great ass and legs.

Beautiful people have distinctive features.

Figure 1.6.    Charles Dana Gibson, The Jury Disagrees

A beautiful woman is someone with big eyes, a pretty smile, a thin tapered nose, oval-shaped face, perfect teeth. Usually women have to be perfect to be beautiful. Men don't have to be perfect.

Distortions are ugly. Someone who has a very large nose or big fore­head, a lot of freckles, or something like that, is unappealing.

I'm thinking of a man I know who is gorgeous. He has blond hair, light blue eyes, high cheekbones, a long face, and a perfect nose.

I don't like the 5'11" All-American blond with voluptuous curves. It's boring, I like the unusual—a German look ... a beautiful Scandana-vian look.

When I think of beauty, I think of Vogue and high fashion. Since I don't like that, I don't know what beauty is.

No fat chicks here.

I think men whose bodies have gone to seed are a little disgusting.

Beauty is perfection. That perfection can manifest itself in a variety of ways—first and foremost would be in physical aspects.

Though there are differences among these statements, the similarities and agreements are more common.

Several studies have examined how people react to different body configurations. Nancy Hirshberg and her colleagues (Wiggins et al. 1968) conducted the most careful study of what men think is beautiful in women. They prepared 105 nude silhouettes like those in Figure 1.7.

The first silhouette had a Golden Mean sort of body—she had average-sized breasts, buttocks, and legs. (If the Greeks were right, men should have preferred her—they didn't.) The remaining silhouettes' assets were systematically varied. For example, the silhouettes were given unusually large breasts (+2), moderate-sized breasts (+1), standard breasts (0), moderately small breasts (-1), or unusually small (-2) breasts. The silhouettes' legs and buttocks were varied in the same way. Young men were asked to pick the figures they liked best.

The Golden Mean theory turned out to have some validity. Most men thought the women with medium-sized breasts, buttocks, and legs were more attractive than those with unusually small or large features. The men's ideal, however, was a woman with oversized breasts (+1), medium to slightly small buttocks, and medium-sized legs. (Similar results were secured by Beck et al. [1976] and Horvath [1979].)

What about women? What do they find appealing in men? Paul Lavrakas (1975) followed the procedure we have just described in order to find out. He constructed nineteen different types of men's bodies on


Very recently, a new type of ideal has begun to emerge—a more muscular, healthy, functional beauty. Time magazine (Corliss 1982) devoted a cover story to this "New Ideal of Beauty." Time argued that women are reshaping Americans' notions of beauty. The new woman is natural—graceful, slim, and far stronger than before. Their bodies are streamlined for motion, for purposeful strides across the mall, around the backcourt, and into the board room.

Ideals of beauty for women and men may be merging. For men, attractiveness has traditionally been equated with strength, stamina, fitness—all of which allowed men to be more functional. Women are finally joining men in the exercise gym and in corporate chambers (See Figure 1.9).


Scientists have found no universal beauties. People in different cultures do not even agree on which features are important, much less what is good-looking and what is not.

Within a culture, however, there is considerable agreement about looks. Luckily for the vast majority of us, there is not complete agreement. For example, Cross and Cross (1971), after reporting that Americans and Europeans agree, to some extent, on what kinds of faces are most appealing, report: "The most popular face in the sample was chosen as best of its group by 6 of 207 judges but there was no face that was never chosen, and even the least popular face was picked as best of its group (of six portraits similar in age, sex, and race) by four subjects" (p. 438).

The optimistic hope that someone, somewhere, sometime will think we are irresistible seems a realistic one.


Now that we have discovered what Americans and Europeans think is good-looking, we can turn to the most personal questions THE GROUP faced:

•  How good-looking do you think you are?

•  If you could enter one part of yourself in a beauty contest, what would that be?

•  Are there certain parts of your body that are especially ugly?

•  What do other people think of your looks?

Figure 1.9.    Ms. University of Hawaii, Janet C. Vidad, at a beauty and physical fitness contest, 1984.

•  Do they ever tell you you're physically appealing? Make cruel comments about your looks? How do you react to such comments?

•  How self-conscious are you about your looks?

Scientists have developed a variety of techniques for assessing "Body Image."

We all know about "The Perfect 10". At the University of Wisconsin (Madison) sits The Pub, overlooking State Street. The front wall is solid glass. Men sit on stools, drinking beer, "watching all the girls go by." Each time a woman passes, men shout out "5" or "8" to indicate how good-looking they think she is. Madison women, a bit fiercer than most, occasionally retaliate. One Friday afternoon, a student named Leslie Donovan went down to The Pub with her Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters, each armed with a stack of flash cards numbered 1-10. When a man shouted his rating, they held up a card indicating his score. (Ms. Donovan once held up a flash card with a "10" on it plus a note attached which said, "My name is Leslie. You can reach me at 222-0101.")

Generally, researchers use a straightforward technique for finding out how people rate themselves. They simply ask them. For example, we (Hatfield [Walster] et al., 1966) asked teenagers: "All in all, how good-looking do you think you are?"


-10                                                             0                                                           +10

Extremely                                               Average                                                Extremely

Unattractive                                                                                                           Attractive

In this study, most teens thought they were less than a perfect 6.

Surprisingly, even though this method sounds simplistic, it is an effective way to find out what people think of themselves. This straight­forwardness is as good as some of the more elaborate scaling techniques that have been devised. Sometimes, simple is best. Usually, such rough and ready estimates have been enough. On occasion, researchers want to know more about the details of beauty. In such cases, they have proceeded to ask men and women how they felt about almost every feature of themselves—their face, height, weight, and other details.

For example, we asked readers of Psychology Today (a popular magazine) how they felt about their bodies (Berscheid, Hatfield [Walster], and Bohrnstedt 1973). More then sixty-two thousand readers replied. Take a moment to answer our Body Image questionnaire.

Body Image How satisfied are you with the way your body looks?

1. Height:

O   A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

2.   Weight:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

3.   Hair:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

4.  Eyes:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

5.   Ears:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

6.   Nose:

O   A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

7.   Mouth:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

8.   Teeth:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

9.   Voice:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

10.   Chin:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

11.   Complexion:

O   A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

12.   Overall facial attractiveness:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O E Quite dissatisfied.

O F Extremely dissatisfied.

13.   Shoulders:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

14.  Chest (males), Breasts (females):

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

15.   Arms:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

16.   Hands:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

17.   Size of abdomen:

O   A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

18.   Buttocks (seat):

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

19.   Size of sex organs:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

20.   Appearance of sex organs:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O   E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

21.   Hips (upper thighs):

O  A Extremely satisfied. O  B   Quite satisfied. O C Somewhat satisfied. O D Somewhat dissatisfied. O E Quite dissatisfied. O F Extremely dissatisfied.

22.   Legs and ankles:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O   B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

23.   Feet:

O A Extremely satisfied. O  B   Quite satisfied. O C Somewhat satisfied. O D Somewhat dissatisfied. O E Quite dissatisfied. O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

24.   General muscle tone or development:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O   C Somewhat satisfied.

O   D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O  F Extremely dissatisfied.

25.   Overall body appearance:

O  A Extremely satisfied.

O  B   Quite satisfied.

O  C Somewhat satisfied.

O  D Somewhat dissatisfied.

O  E Quite dissatisfied.

O   F Extremely dissatisfied.

(Berscheid, Hatfield [Walster] and Bohrn-stedt 1972; Reprinted from Psychology To­day July, 1972, pp. 58-59.)

Now you know how satisfied you are with your appearance. Do you have more self-confidence than most? ... or less? Let's find out.

Lest We Forget: A Note

You might have felt—as you struggled through the Body Image ques­tionnaire—that we asked too much. Not so for most people. Many people who responded complained we had neglected to ask about the very traits they thought were most important: "I thought your quiz very odd," wrote one New York man. "Nothing about chest hair, pubic hair, or beards." "How one sees oneself in motion—awkward, graceful, rigidly erect, slumping. . . ." "Why didn't you ask about physical deformities?" asked one unhappy man. "My rib cage is deformed as a result of rickets (not to mention a curvature of the spine and a short leg)." "How about blindness?" . . . "bowlegs?" . . . "deafness?" . . . "mastectomies?" One man was annoyed that we did not ask how people felt about their colon, what with constipation and such! Granted we did not ask everything, but we can see how people feel about the things we did ask about.

To find out how people in general felt about themselves, we selected a sample of two thousand questionnaires for closer scrutiny. We selected a sample that came as close to the national statistics as possible. It consisted of 50 percent men and 50 percent women. Forty-five percent were 24 years old or younger, 25 percent were between 25 and 44, and the rest were 45 or older. Table 1.2 shows how satisfied most people are with themselves.


American society places so much emphasis on looks. How do most people feel they measure up overall? Only about half the people are extremely or quite satisfied with their looks. Slightly more men than women (55 percent versus 45 percent) are this satisfied. One California man, who was extremely satisfied with his looks, observed: "I have to admit that I consider myself to be a gorgeous person. Your questionnaire made me aware of my body, not just a finely crafted machine, but as a being that is beautiful in an artistic way."

A trivial 4 percent of men and 7 percent of the women are quite or extremely dissatisfied with their overall appearance. The following replies are typical of people in that category:

What we ugly people need is a special book of etiquette that advises us how to behave under the following circumstances: How to respond to remarks like "you sure are ugly." When you see all the easy jobs go to

TABLE 1.2   Satisfaction with Body Parts




















































overall facial



























eyes ears



1 1



6 4

14 10

12 13

80 83

81 82




































































































mid torso









size of




































hips (upper thighs)









legs and ankles









height, weight and tone









height weight

3 21

3 10





15 21

20 22

72 31

67 43

general mus-









cle   tone   or


















sex organs chest/breast









size of sex


















appearance  of sex organs









the pretty girls, when they are no more capable than you [sic]. What are you supposed to do when people stare at you? When little children run when they see you! When, as a child, you have to listen to people say that your parents must have committed some grave sin. When you real­ize that hardened criminals are better off than you because they can at least go to a big city and get lost in the crowd. When people mistreat you and accuse you of being evil. And finally, how are you equipped to behave, when you cannot see any evidence that God loves you?

At the age of twelve, I realized that I was a homosexual. To relieve my tension, I ate and ate until, at the height of five-seven, I weighed 180 pounds and became known as "Fats." At the age of 14, while taking a shower, I realized that no one, absolutely no one would ever love me— I was a fat slob. The next month I lost 30 pounds. It worked. I am now 23 and am 6 foot and weigh 155. I have a lover for the first time in my life who is more than a one-night stand. I am glad that I had that experience. I somehow appreciate inner beauty more than the plastic, store-bought, television ad beauty that drives so many in this world. (P.S. My lover is beautiful. I refuse to answer if I was attracted to his inner or outer beauty first.)

In general, then, men do have better body images than do women. This finding is especially disturbing in light of the fact that women are those most likely to believe that "physical attractiveness is very im­portant in day-to-day social interaction."

For most women, the longing to be beautiful runs deep.

Throughout my childhood I was praised as the intellectual, quiet, thoughtful, conscientious, humorous child of the family—but I desper­ately wanted to be pretty. I am nearly thirty years old, a "success" in a field few women enter, a "good" speaker, conversationalist, and clown, in a mild sort of way. I am happily married and feel "valued" by my family, but I'd chuck it all if some Mephistophelian character offered me the option of the kind of long-legged, aquiline, tawny beauty praised in myth and toothpaste ads.

A few women noted they were trying to overcome their obsession with beauty:

At a consciousness-raising session, several friends and I decided to go around in a circle and name our most hated features. Hearing each other, we realized how minutely our "ugly" features were noticed. It was definitely a good thing to do.

One's Face Is One's Fortune

Almost everyone was happy with his or her face; only 11 percent of the women and 8 percent of the men expressed any dissatisfaction.

People were not uniformly delighted with every aspect of their faces, however. Both men and women were unhappiest with their teeth— almost one-third were dissatisfied—one-fourth of the respondents com­plained about their complexions, and one in five did not like their noses.

Sexual Characteristics: How Do You Stack Up?

Given Americans' preoccupation with sex and sexual performance, we thought it possible that most men would be worried about the size of their penises and most women would complain about the size of their breasts. Sex researchers have often observed that couples are unduly worried about just that (Masters and Johnson 1970; Zilbergeld 1978). In fact, Masters and Johnson (1970) were so apprehensive that if word leaked out as to what constituted the "average" breast or penis size, those who fell short would have great difficulty dealing with the facts. Thus, these advocates of academic freedom refused to publish this information.

Ann Landers (1979) receives many, many letters from women worried that their breasts are too large or too small. In 1979 she ran a letter from a woman in Cincinnati who was painfully self-conscious about her small breasts. (A boyfriend had just taken a look at her breasts and told her to "put some calamine lotion on them and they would be gone by morning." She was humiliated and hurt.)

Her letter stimulated a flurry of letters from women suffering from too much of a good thing. One woman reminded her that both psy­chological and medical problems came with big breasts. Men were only interested in one ("or should I say two") things. She had to dress carefully, avoiding low necklines, clingy fabrics, and knits. Her brassiere required special padding on the strap, and the straps still cut into her shoulders. Ann suggested surgery for breast reduction.

We received many such letters, but they are the exception. Only 9 percent of women are very dissatisfied with their breasts. One woman in four is dissatisfied.

What about men's concern about their sexual endowments? We discovered that only 15 percent of men are at all dissatisfied with the size of their penises; barely 6 percent are "extremely" or "quite dis­satisfied". Evidently, only a few men worry about such things. However, we got letters from men concerned about other aspects of their mas­culinity:

You ask men how they feel about the size of their sex organs. But this is not the crux of the problem. No doubt millions of men, and I among them, have fretted endlessly over the size of their penises, but after all,

except among nudists, this isn't a very crucial matter in day-to-day in­teraction. It is a secret that can be fairly well kept. There is one secret that can't be kept—how masculine your secondary sex characteristics are—the amount and distribution of your hair, the broadness of your shoulders, narrowness of hips, etc. When I was an adolescent, I had the misfortune to see a sex manual which showed male and female-pubic hair distribution. Horrors—my own pubic hair was the perfect model of the feminine pattern—and still is!

I am going through severe depression, for the following reason: I am extremely unattractive. By 22, a man should look very different from the opposite sex. I don't. My beard growth is nil. The texture of my skin on my face is, if anything, softer and smoother, more "feminine" than most women's. Indeed, on first glance, I am often mistaken for a girl by store clerks and others. This has had a devastating effect on my life. I am a musician, and until I was about 18, when I still looked like a kid, I was able to play with musicians older and more experienced than I, because of my talent. It was assumed that I would "grow out of it." Now, I cannot manage to get into a band, even when the musicians are inferior to me. Needless to say, my social life is just as depressing. In fact, I have none to talk about. My dermatologist sent me to an endocrinolo­gist, as he suspected there might be a hormonal imbalance, but the tests were all negative. I am truly desperate!

There is, however, one group of men exceptionally concerned with their looks and with penis size: gay men. Ten percent of the men and 5 percent of the women who answered our Psychology Today ques­tionnaires had some experience with homosexual activity. Those men who had never experimented with homosexual activity were likely to have a higher body image score than were gay men (33 percent versus 25 percent). Fully 45 percent of the gay men had below average images of their penises on a two-item measure ("satisfaction with size" and "appearance of genitals"), compared to only 25 percent of the other men.

Apparently, gay men, because of men's emphasis on looks in sexual encounters (see Hagen 1979; Symons 1979), become unusually concerned about their bodies. Unlike other men, gay men may have discovered how important beauty is in attracting men; thus, they become as concerned as women have always been about "measuring up." Con­sistent with that argument is the finding that only gay men are so concerned with appearances. Lesbians are as likely to have a positive body image as other women.

Are women concerned about their genitals? Only 3 percent of the women were dissatisfied with the size of their sex organs. Only 7 percent were dissatisfied with the appearance of their sex organs. A few women worried about having a vagina too small or too large for

their mate's penis. One woman complained that, while having a pelvic examination, her gynecologist observed: "Your husband must complain about sex with you. You are very large, you know."


To say that most people are generally satisfied with their bodies overall is not to say they are happy with every aspect of their looks. Society places an enormous emphasis on a trim figure. One man volunteered: "As for me, FAT people make me sick. I've never had a fat friend or bedded a fat woman." Almost half of the women and about one-third of the men said they were unhappy with their weight. Twice as many women as men were very dissatisfied (21 percent versus 10 percent).

Perhaps because excess weight tends to settle in the mid-torso area—abdomen, buttocks, hips, and thighs—people worried about their weight were also unhappy about these particular body parts. Some 36 percent of the men fret over that spare tire problem. Women worry about the size of their hips—49 percent were dissatisfied. (We will discuss this issue in greater detail in chapter 6.)

Women are sensitive to the issue of weight. Wardell Pomeroy, who collaborated with Alfred Kinsey in their early interviews (Kinsey et al. 1948, 1953) on sex, discovered that the most embarrassing question he could ask women was: "How much do you weigh?" (This question was more embarrassing than "How often do you masturbate?" "Have you ever had an extramarital affair?" "A homosexual affair?")

When women try to ignore their weight problem, the "bare" facts can suddenly strike them, as Ellen Goodman (1980) describes:

In my life as a clothing consumer I have been subjected to a series of sudden visions known as Dressing Room Revelations. . . . Most of them were unpleasant .  .  . brought to me by that demon of technology, the three-way mirror. ... It was in a dressing room, for example, that I discovered what I look like from the back. This is something I really didn't have to know. I could have led a decent, understanding life bliss­fully ignorant of this information, (p. 11)


There is a great deal of evidence that, in our society, height—especially for men—is extremely important. (We will discuss this issue, too, in chapter 7). We had expected to find widespread dissatisfaction with height—we thought men would want to be taller and women would be afraid of being too tall. Not so. Only 13 percent of both sexes expressed any discontent with their height, and actual height was not related to body satisfaction.


When you filled out the Body Image questionnaire, you had a chance to say how good-looking you think you are. Would most people agree with you? To find out how objective men and women are about themselves, researchers' first step was to develop an "objective" measure of looks. This test turned out to be surprisingly difficult. After several false starts, scientists finally settled on a well-worn method—the method of consensus (see Berscheid and Hatfield [Walster] 1974). Researchers simply ask a number of judges to rate men and women's looks. Judges have their own biases, of course. One judge may like tall, Nordic types, another, short, athletic types, but if you get enough judges, these biases tend to cancel out one another. The method of consensus may be a form of shared ignorance . . . but it is a form of "ignorance" that works (Hatfield [Walster], Aronson, Abrahams, Rottmann 1966).

Scientists have asked, "Do people see themselves as others see them?" The answer appears to be, "through a glass, darkly." There is some correspondence between people's ideas on how good-looking they are and the opinions of more objective judges, but the relationship is far from perfect (see Berscheid et al. 1971; Huston 1972; or Stroebe et al. 1971). Two contradictory processes—the Modesty effect and the Henry Finck syndrome—combine to reduce our ability to see ourselves as others see us.

The Modesty Effect

Cavior (1970) asked fifth-grade girls and boys how they rated compared to other boys and girls in their classes. He found that 75 percent of the girls thought they were the least attractive girl in their class! The girls were not just being modest. They were simply focusing on defects in their appearance that the more objective judges thought were trivial. The girls had adopted an absolute standard of attractiveness—they compared themselves to a "perfect 10" and concluded they did not measure up. The judges, less ego involved, had adopted a relative standard. They asked themselves: "How good looking is this girl com­pared to other fifth grade girls?"

Cavior also found that fifth- and sixth-grade boys' and girls' guesses as to how their classmates would rank them were almost always wrong. These eleven to twelve year olds had little idea how they rated with their friends. They had a slightly better idea about how relative strangers would feel about them.

The Henry Finck Syndrome

Sometimes false modesty is not the problem—sometimes it's just the opposite. Like Henry Finck, we take it for granted that our country, our race, our family look as people ought to look. For example, Malff (reported in Huntley 1940) found that young adults rated their own thinly disguised profiles, hands, faces, etc. more favorably than others rated them, even though they were unaware it was their own features they were rating. These two opposite processes—false modesty and unconscious arrogance—both contribute to people's inabilities to see themselves as others see them.

As we get older, we do get a little wiser. With age people get to be somewhat better at guessing how others see them. Somewhat better . . . but far from perfect. For example, Berscheid et al. (1971) found that adults' self assessments on the Secord and Jourard Body Cathexis Scale (a type of body image scale) had no relationship to outside observers' judgments about their appearance! Other researchers have found only a minimal relationship (see Huston 1972; Murstein 1972; Stroebe et al. 1971).

So, if you want to know what other people like or dislike about you, you better ask them.

A Note: If you arrange things properly, you can guarantee you will rate a "perfect 10".

1.   Ask people with high esteem what they think of your looks. Scientists have found that people who rate themselves highly are equally generous in rating others (Morse, Reis, Gruzen, and Wolff 1974).

2.   Avoid beautiful people. They have been found, to be harsher in their judgments. They consider themselves to be the Golden Mean and, in contrast, you lose (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966; Tennis and Dabbs 1975).

3.   Avoid critics who spend a lot of time thumbing through movie magazines, watching "Charlie's Angels" on television, etc. When they compare the stars to you, you lose out in luster. The contrast effect again (Kenrick and Gutierres 1980; Melamed and Moss 1975). This observation may be reason enough to cancel your date's Playboy or Play girl subscription.

4.   Ask men or women who are sexually aroused what they think of you. While aroused, men and women have been found to be unusually appreciative of the opposite sex's looks . . . and unusually harsh in their judgments of the same sex, who are potential rivals. This fact may be reason enough to present your date with a subscription to Playboy or Playgirl.

5.   Ask someone of the opposite sex who has been drinking in a singles bar, just before closing time. Scientists have found that people

do get better-looking just before closing time, probably because men and women are eager for company and can afford to be generous (Pennebaker et al. 1979).

6.   Ask someone who owes you money.

7.   Ask people who look like you. If they have the same color hair, the same body frame, and a mole in the same place, they are going to think you are gorgeous (D. Byrne 1971).

8.   Ask people who know you. They are going to be more lenient in judging you (Cavior 1970; Cavior, Miller and Cohen 1975).

9.   Be sure to ask your mother! It's her obligation to think you are good-looking.

Chapter 2


Most of us feel a little uneasy about our feelings toward attractive versus ugly people. On one hand, we know that beauty should not be important. (We are a little ashamed when we remember how we teased a fat "mama's" boy in grade school or stood by while others did so. We blush when we recall what fools we made of ourselves over a good-looking athlete in high school, and how we persevered in spite of our shame because he was so good-looking.) On the other hand, in our hearts, we know beauty is important to us . . . sometimes very important.

You may get some sense of how complicated your feelings are about beauty and ugliness by sorting through your reactions to two cases illustrating the strong effect physical appearance may have. How do you react to the following cases?



Recently (Van Buren 1976), a mother wrote that, although she knew that she should be grateful to have a thirteen-year-old daughter who was healthy and bright, she found it impossible to love her daughter because the girl was so ugly. The mother felt guilty because she could not help but be cruel to the girl. The mother and father were attractive. They had done everything they could to help the daughter look better— she had a good hair cut, her teeth were straightened, she had been treated for acne, she had nice clothes, but still, she was searingly homely. The mother asked "What can I do?" Abby's answer was swift and sharp. "You are the ugly one, only your ugliness doesn't show." Is Abby right? Or is this mother simply more honest about her feelings than most of us are? Or, consider this case:


Candace (Candy) Weatherby Johnson was a dazzling blonde model when she married multimillionaire Jacques Mossier. Soon thereafter, Candy and her nephew, Lane Powers, stood accused of murdering Mossier. The press labeled the murder trial "the trial of the century." It's no wonder. The prosecution dwelt on Candy's incestuous relation­ship with her nephew, her shady associations with the underworld, and her involvement in murky Texan politics. Percy Foreman, the flamboyant lawyer for the defense, dwelt on Mossler's "Jekyll and Hyde" personality, his "insatiable sexual appetite—his transvestitism, voyeurism, masochism, and sadism; his adulterous and homosexual encounters—his ruthless business dealings;" all of which, Foreman contended, gave hundreds of people a motive to kill him.

The jury deliberated for three days. Finally, they found Candy "not guilty." The press continued to question the verdict. Did the all-male jury let Candy off because they could not believe so beautiful a woman could commit so violent a crime? Had Candy's beauty worked against her? Would she never have been brought to trial if she were not so beautiful, so rich, and politically well connected (see Dorman 1969)?

Do you think beauty affects judgments of character and innocence? In general, how much of an advantage is beauty? Is it ever a disad­vantage? In the next few chapters, we will review the evidence scientists have collected to help us answer such questions.


Scientists find that most people, most of the time, are favorably biased in their reactions to good-looking people. This discovery is certainly

not new. The Greek philosopher Sappho (1965) stated, "What is beau­tiful is good." Schiller (1982) added, "Physical beauty is a sign of interior beauty, a spiritual and moral beauty. . . ." Today's scientists, however, have come to a little better understanding of just how, where, when, and why physical appearance is important.

There seem to be four steps in the stereotyping process that ensures that beauty equals goodness.

1.   Most people feel that discriminating against the ugly is not fair, but yet. . . .

2.   Privately, most of us simply take it for granted that attractive and unattractive people are different. Most often we perceive that attractive people have the more desirable traits.

3.  As a consequence, we treat good-looking versus ugly people quite differently; the good-looking get the better treatment.

4.   How does such prejudice affect the victims of our discrimination? Over time, a sort of "self-fulfilling prophecy" occurs. The way we treat attractive versus unattractive people shapes the way they think about themselves and, as a consequence, the kind of people they become.

In the next few chapters, we will present an encyclopedic review of the evidence that, in general, good looks are an enormous advantage.


Scientists have discovered most of what they know about society's biases in favor of the attractive by conducting experiments. Most people, however, do not have a very clear idea about what actually happens in a psychology experiment. What about you? What images come to your mind?

Basically, the raison d'etre of an experiment is to answer a question. For example, in the early 1970s, scientists were interested in the question, "Do most of us perceive attractive versus unattractive people differ­ently?"

First, scientists shaped the question into a hypothesis—a specific prediction. Early scientists predicted that "attractive men and women will be perceived as more appealing in every way than the unattractive."

The next step in an experiment is to arrange things so that one can determine whether or not the hypothesis is true. An experiment can be conducted almost anywhere. The experiments we describe in

this book have been conducted in a variety of settings—in universities, laboratories, supermarkets, classrooms, bars, and telephone booths.

In experiments, three key concepts are independent variables, de­pendent variables, and randomization. The experimenter manipulates the independent variable. In the experimental group, the experimenter ma­nipulates the variable he is interested in. For example, an experiment might ask people to look at a picture of Brooke Shields and to speculate about what she is like personally. Other people, those in the control (or comparison) group, might be asked to look at a picture of a Plain Jane and to guess about her personality and character. Here, the ex­perimenter is manipulating the independent variable—beauty.

The experimenter suspects that people's guesses about the girls' personalities and characters will depend on which picture they have seen—the gorgeous girl or the plain one. For this reason, men and women's reactions in an experiment are called dependent variables. By comparing people's ideas on what a beautiful Brooks versus a Plain Jane is like, scientists can get some hunches about the stereotypes about beauty.

Another characteristic of a good experiment is that subjects are randomly assigned to different conditions. In the above experiment, the experimenter might toss a coin and decide which picture the judges receive. There is a 50-50 chance any judge will end up judging Brooke Shields. Of course, there is also a 50-50 chance it will be Plain Jane. Such randomization is critically important. It insures that the experi­menter cannot, consciously or unconsciously, bias the results. For ex­ample, the experimenters could assign generous-spirited people to judge

Brooke and crotchety ones to judge Plain Jane to insure they get the results they expect.

We have talked about experiments in abstract terms, but what would it be like to actually participate in an experiment? Let's find out: Walking past the library one day, you see a sign:



Please sign up below

Just for the fun of it, you decide to sign up for the experiment. A few days later you find yourself in the psychology building at the University of Hawaii. When you report, you find that two other volunteers have been scheduled for the same time. The laboratory is cozily furnished— it contains portraits of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, a table, three chairs, and a thick, beige carpet.

The experimenter, a graduate student, tells the three of you a little more about what you are about to do.

We are interested in how accurate people can be when required to form first impressions of others on the sketchiest of information. We'd like to show you some photographs of students—Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, and Haoles [a Hawaiian expression for "Caucasian"]—enrolled at the University of Hawaii. Since they've lived in Hawaii all their lives, we know a great deal about them. Better yet, we plan to keep in touch with them, so eventually we'll be able to find out how things worked out for them in the long run. We'll be able to compare your first impressions with the factual information we have about them. Do you have any questions?

No one can think of anything to ask, so the exercise begins. The experimenter hands each of you a packet. Your packet contains two photographs—one of a strikingly good-looking man and one of an equally good-looking woman. It also contains two rating forms on which you can indicate your impressions. For a split second, you wonder if there is more to this task than meets the eye. You try to catch a glimpse of the contents of the packets given to the other two subjects, but they are too far away . . . and already busy at work. Your suspicions evaporate as you become engrossed in trying to accurately guess what these strikingly good-looking people are like.

To make it really seem like you are participating in this study, we have included some photographs (Figures 2.2 and 2.3) and one of the two rating forms below. What impressions does each person give you? Choose one of the pictures and fill out the checklist of adjectives.

What sort of impr

ession did he

or she make

on '




1         2








1         2








1         2







Sexually permissive

I         2






Sexually conservative


1         2








1         2








I         2








I         2








1         2








1         2








I         2







"*u         ......*-----' ........".....

Finally, the hour is up. The experimenter gathers up the packets. As she delivers them to an adjacent room, you steal a chance to talk to the other two students. You discover that one had been asked to give her first impressions of what she describes as an "average-looking" couple. The third volunteer, on the other hand, reveals that his couple had been extraordinarily unappealing.

The experimenter returns, and so do your suspicions. You are convinced there is more to this experiment than you have been told. You are about to interrogate the experimenter, but she is one step ahead of you. She coughs, smiles mischievously, and begins a revealing discourse. You discover your hunch—that there was more to the ex­periment—was right. No one was interested in comparing your first impressions with factual information about the people in the photo­graphs. Even if someone had been interested, no information existed on the individuals! That introduction was a "cover story" to prevent you from guessing the true purpose of the experiment.

What, then, was the true purpose? To discover whether or not people are biased in favor of the good-looking. The photographs of the three couples were different in attractiveness. One couple was extraordinarily good-looking (you got that one), one average, and one ugly in appearance (This was the independent variable). The experi­menter was interested in people's first impressions of these couples (the dependent variable). The experimenter can get a hint about the stereo­types the three of you (and others, as well) hold about beautiful people by comparing your reactions. By the way, you have just been debriefed— you have been told the true purpose of the experiment.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Before an experiment begins, a great deal of preparatory work must be done. In the above experiment, the investigator began by assembling a set of photographs of men and women varying in appearance. Where do such photographs come from? In many studies, researchers have selected photos of good-looking, average, and ugly men and women from college or high school yearbooks. In other studies, researchers have searched for appropriate models and taken photographs of them. For example, when Elaine Hatfield began beauty research back in the 1960s, she would stop people on the street she thought were good-looking (or homely) and ask if they would allow her to take their picture for use in her research.

She quickly learned an unexpected lesson. Occasionally, when she stopped someone she thought was unusually handsome or beautiful and lured him or her back to the laboratory, she found that not everyone agreed with her evaluation. The first time this happened she was stunned. She hauled in a man she thought was breathtakingly hand­some, and her colleague, Dr. Ellen Berscheid, bluntly asked which group he was intended for—good-looking, average, or ugly. Dr. Hatfield was dumbfounded! Surely Dr. Berscheid was kidding. She wasn't. Eventually they discovered they had opposite, but predictable, biases. Dr. Hatfield tended to think that dark, muscular, athletic men and women were good-looking; Dr. Berscheid liked tall, thin, ethereal blonds.

After researchers have assembled photographs they think are ap­propriate, therefore, their next step is to make sure other people agree with their impressions. Researchers use the "truth by consensus" method to settle disputes about how good-looking people are. If virtually all "judges" rate certain photographs as "attractive," then they can con­fidently be denned as attractive. Similarly, if almost everyone rates the photographs as "unattractive," they can be labeled that way. Luckily, as we observed in chapter 1, people generally agree about who is attractive and who is not.

While most studies have used photographs or slides of only the face, in a few studies experimenters have studied people's reactions to the entire body. For example, one investigator had his graduate students bring in photographs of their parents in bathing suits. Occasionally, videotapes are used. One investigator, for example, prepared a videotape of a beautiful versus a homely young woman stealing a book from the bookstore. Given the chapter 1 definition of beauty, videotapes have an obvious advantage. Videotapes allow us to respond to several aspects of good looks—vivaciousness, posture, style of movement, and so on— rather than limiting response to structural beauty.

Live models have been used in a few experiments. For example, in the study you just participated in, you could have received a note in your packet like this:

The other volunteers think you are rating photographs in your packet, as they are. However, as you have noticed, you don't have any photographs. We want you to rate the other two volunteers. Inconspi­cuously, study them. What are your first impressions of them?

You might have noticed a lot about the other volunteers. Certainly you would have noticed how good-looking they are. But you would also notice how they are sitting, whether they look bored or interested in

what they are doing, and perhaps most importantly, how they respond to you (did they smile or ignore you?).

To insure that it is looks (and not boredom or friendliness) that matters, researchers generally use the same person as the appealing and unappealing model. Sometimes, the model is made as unappealing as possible. She looks like the "before" picture in the magazine ads. She has an unflattering makeup, mismatched clothes, and is wearing a stringy, dirty-haired wig. At other times, she is made extremely good-looking. For example, in the "after" condition, the model should be beautifully made up, fashionably dressed, and have neatly styled hair. If you're curious about how the same person can look either attractive or ugly, see Figure 2.4.

Getting the photographs, slides, videotapes, or actual models for the experiment is the biggest job. There are many other tasks involved in conducting an experiment however. For example:

1) The investigator must get permission from a University Ethics Committee to conduct the experiment. Such committees are formed to protect participants from any physical or psychological harm. The in­vestigator has to convince the committee that participants will not be harmed in any way, and. that, if deception is involved, participants will be thoroughly debriefed. The experiments reported in this book were all screened to insure that none of the participants were embarrassed or hurt in any way.

Figure 2.4.    Before and after photos, courtesy Frances Loo (stylist). Makeup, Lyle Nelson; photography, Gerald Bishop (Tiare Lee, model).

2)  The investigator must decide what questions to ask the subjects— exactly what kinds of "first impressions" he's interested in. Two com­pulsive researchers (Allport and Odbert 1936) once compiled a list of all possible adjective pairs that could be used to describe people. Their list contained 18,000 items! Good luck to researchers who think people will respond to such lists! All seasoned researchers know there is a limit to how much can be asked of people. Quality not quantity of data is the goal.

3)  If an experiment is to be realistic, the "setting" has to be carefully prepared. In one study we will discuss later, dimes were placed in pay telephones. In another experiment, a car with a flat tire was left "stranded" on the highway.

4)  Participants have to be found. Sometimes, investigators solicit volunteers from classes. Sometimes, signs (similar to the one illustrated earlier) are used. At other times, participants are whoever happens to be around, e.g., whoever enters the phone booth or drives by the car with a flat tire.

In conclusion, an enormous amount of work went into preparing each of the experiments in this book. Space does not permit detailing each experiment, but now you can fill in those details yourself.


How biased are you in favor of the good-looking?

Do you generally react differently to good-looking people than to ugly ones? How? For example: Do you have a better impression of good-looking people than ugly ones? Did you ever dislike someone just because of his or her looks?

Do you generally treat good-looking people differently than ugly ones? How?

Can you think of any time when good looks are a disadvantage?

Most people believe you should not "judge a book by its cover"; but, most of us do. Why? Perhaps because often we have no real alternative. When we have to make a quick decision about who to sit next to at lunch, who to hire to run errands, who to share a cab with in the train, or who to ask out, sometimes appearance is all we have to go on.

Appearance is the sole characteristic apparent in every social in­teraction. Other information may be more meaningful but far harder to ferret out. People do not have their IQ's tattooed on their foreheads, nor do they display their diplomas prominently about their persons. Their financial status is a private matter between themselves, their bankers, and the Internal Revenue Service. And scientists would not

know how to interpret the structure of someone's genes, even if they could be presented for inspection. Thus, it is not surprising that, like it or not, beauty counts.

Classic Beauty Studies

Two early experiments were the first to verify that most people do assume, "What is beautiful is good, what is ugly is bad."

In one experiment, Elaine Hatfield, Karen Dion, and Ellen Berscheid asked college men and women to look at pictures of good-looking, average, or homely men and women. They discovered that most people assumed good-looking men and women possessed nearly all the good traits known to humanity. The good-looking were supposedly more sexually responsive, warmer, more sensitive, kind, interesting, strong, poised, modest, sociable, and outgoing, were more "exciting dates" and more "nurturant," and had a "better character" than less appealing persons.

Not only were beautiful people expected to have better personalities, they were also expected to have more fulfilling lives! The researchers asked respondents to guess what lay ahead for the individuals they saw pictured. Without fail, people predicted the beautiful and handsome would have happier marriages, would secure better jobs, and would have happier and more fulfilling lives. On only one dimension were people suspicious of beauty—they did not expect attractive people to make especially good parents. This classic study convinced social psy­chologists that people do have stereotypes about the beautiful/ugly (Dion, Berscheid, Hatfield [Walster] 1972).

Other researchers have confirmed that people generally believe in the "goodness of beauty." Miller (1970a) documented that good-looking people are assumed to be more appealing on the following dimensions: curious, complex, perceptive, confident, assertive, happy, active, amiable, candid, serious, pleasure seeking, outspoken, flexible.

The attractive are also perceived as creators of their own destinies. Attractive men and women are seen as "masters of their own fate, as individuals who behave with a sense of purpose and out of their own volition." Unattractive men and women are seen as "coerced and generally influenced by others or by environmental conditions" (Miller 1970b).

The Ugly Truth About Beauty

Most people give the beautiful rave reviews, but not everyone. Tolstoy once observed cynically: "What a strange delusion it is to fancy beauty is goodness!" Most of the time, we are caught up in beauty's lure, but

in a few instances, we cannot help but recognize that the beautiful's shining armor has a few chinks.

For example, in a study titled, "When Beauty May Fall," Dermer and Thiel (1975) asked women to rate the beautiful on a few more traits than researchers had studied in the classic studies described above. As before, this study showed that attractive women were judged more favorably on most dimensions. They were expected to be "more sociable, sexually alluring, successful professionally, and personally happy." However, attractive women were also expected to be more vain, ego­tistical, materialistic, snobbish, likely to get a divorce, and likely to have extramarital affairs. The researchers predicted that unattractive women would be particularly jealous of attractive women and especially harsh in their judgments. They found some evidence for this prediction.

One attractive twenty-four-year-old woman from THE GROUP de­scribed how such jealousy led her friends to mistreat a beautiful woman:

There's a woman I work with now, who's extraordinarily beauti­ful—Italian, very dark, and her features are well-proportioned. But I think she has a disadvantage. When you are an especially beautiful woman, other women tend to treat you badly. Unattractive women can be very catty toward a beautiful woman. This woman doesn't have very many women friends. Even her sister is jealous of her! But she is ex­tremely pretty. I noticed that right away. Even I reacted that way to her. I remember thinking, "Oh, she's really pretty, but she's probably not the kind of girl I like."

We will focus on the special problems attractive men and women confront in chapters 10 and 12.


Do you know anyone who was given special advantages at school or work because he or she was good-looking?

Do you know of anyone discriminated against because he or she was "funny-looking"?

Do you think there is ever a disadvantage (at school or work) in being too good-looking?

Contrary to the popular belief that "beauty and brains don't mix," there is considerable evidence that parents, teachers, and employers equate "looks" with creativity and intelligence.

Discrimination in Educational Settings: The Book Is Judged by Its Cover


Teachers take it for granted that beauty and brains go together, and they grade accordingly. Are good-looking people, in fact, smarter than others? (Some of the early eugenicists certainly thought so.) Or is grading simply prejudiced? The evidence suggests the latter.

Dr. Margaret Clifford, an educational psychologist, and Elaine Hat­field found such a bias in their research (Clifford and Hatfield [Walster] 1973). They asked four hundred fifth-grade teachers to take a look at children's academic files. Inconspicuously pasted in the corner of one of the report cards was the child's photograph. As you might expect, the class photograph was a bogus one. Some teachers saw a picture of a quite attractive boy or girl. Others saw an exceedingly plain child. Except for the picture, teachers received identical information about the children, and there was a great deal of it. The academic record revealed the student's grades in reading, language, arithmetic, social studies, science, art, music, and physical education. It reported on their attitudes and work habits. It even contained a tally of their absences during the school year.

The "insignificant" class photo had a great impact on the teachers' attitudes, in spite of the abundance of information about the child. Teachers assumed that cute boys and girls were more intelligent, that their parents were more interested in their educations, and that these children were more likely to get advanced degrees than the homely boys and girls. Teachers expected cute students to be popular and to get along unusually well with their classmates, as well as being brainy. All this, when according to the facts, the children's records were identical! (Similar results were secured by Adams [1978]; Adams and Cohen [1976]; and Clifford [1975]. However, studies by Adams and LaVoie [1974] and LaVoie and Adams [1974] failed to replicate these results.) It has also been found that physical education teachers expect attractive children to perform better in physical activities (as well as to be better teammates) (Martinek 1981).

In the above studies, the children were average to good students. What about children with special disabilities? In one study, elementary teachers were shown the record of an attractive or unattractive eight-year-old boy or girl. Once again, except for the photograph, the chil­dren's academic records were identical. This time, however, the student had a low IQ (78), below average academic functioning, and seemed immature: Would the teachers recommend the child be placed in a class for the mentally retarded? Teachers were more likely to recommend the child be placed in a class for the mentally retarded if he/she was unattractive. They also believed unattractive children would have poorer psychological functioning and would experience more academic and social difficulties (Ross and Salvia 1975).

Teachers are not the only ones expecting more from cute children. Parents do too. In one study, 106 mothers and 91 fathers of elementary schoolchildren were shown a hypothetical student progress report, ac­companied, of course, by a photo of either a cute or a rather homely child. Parents assumed the cute children had better personalities, were more popular, and were more likely to be elected to class offices. However, the parents did not expect attractive children to be better academically than unattractive children (Adams & LaVoie 1975).

Teachers expect good-looking children to be brighter than homely ones, but do they grade accordingly? The evidence suggests they might. Recently, several investigators have set out to examine what actually goes on in the classroom. Apparently, better-looking students do get better report cards. Researchers found this is true in Michigan (Felson 1980; Lerner and Lerner 1977), in central Pennsylvania (Salvia, Algoz-zine, and Sheare 1977), in fact, almost everywhere except, for some reason, in Muscatine, Iowa (Clifford 1975).

Faced with this real world evidence, we are motivated to return to our original question and ask why beauty and brains go together. Are

good-looking people smarter? Or are teachers prejudiced? Again, the evidence suggests the latter. Researchers find a link between beauty and brains only when teachers have a chance to influence grades—i.e., when grades are based on the teacher's general impressions or on essay exams. When performance is measured by IQ scores or scores on standardized objective tests (Clifford 1975), the homely student suddenly "blossoms," and they do just as well as anyone else. Thus, clearly prejudice, not performance, links beauty and brains (Clifford 1975).


There is some evidence that sometimes teachers' expectations affect even IQ scores. How do parents and teachers' biases affect children? G. B. Shaw had an answer. He argued that people become what they are expected to become.

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady; and always will. (Quoted in Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968, 183)

A classic experiment (Rosenthal & Jacobson 1968) dramatically demonstrated the operation of just such a "self-fulfilling prophecy." The experimenters were convinced that teachers' expectations about what students will become have a dramatic impact on what they do become. They arranged an ingenious experiment to demonstrate this occurrence.

Oak School is in the midst of a working class community. Many of the children are from broken homes. Fathers, when around, are mostly unskilled or semiskilled workers. Mothers and children often subsist on welfare funds. The Harvard professors contacted Oak School and offered to give first- to fifth-grade children the "Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition". The professors claimed the test could identify students who would show unusual academic progress during the coming year.

The scientists administered an IQ test to the Oak School students. They then simply chose 20 percent of the children at random (pulling names out of a hat) and announced to the teachers that the IQ test had identified these children as special students. They were the "late bloomers," destined to show marked intellectual improvement within the year.

George Bernard Shaw would have smiled at the results. When the psychologists returned to Oak School a year later, and again two years

Figure 2.7.    The Pygmalion effect. ©1959. United Feature Syndicate Inc.

later, and gave the same IQ test to all the same children, they discovered that the "late bloomers" had done just what they had been expected to do. Their IQ's had risen dramatically. These gains seemed especially pronounced for first and second graders (perhaps their self-concepts were still in the formative stage), but considerable effects were detected even among the fifth graders.

How could this phenomenon have happened? Perhaps Oak School teachers were more pleasant, friendly, and enthusiastic toward the children they expected great things from. Perhaps they paid more attention to them.

If "attention" is an advantage (and surely it must be), attractive children again have the advantage. Attractive children are unusually likely to be referred for special supplemental services—such as psy­chological, speech, reading, or testing services (Barocas and Black 1974). Attractive children are also more likely to receive encouragement from their teachers. Investigators observed teacher-student interactions in kindergarten, fourth, and seventh grades. Teachers' biases could not be detected with younger children, but by the seventh grade, their biases began to  show.  By the  seventh  grade,  teachers  were  simply more

receptive to and supportive of the attractive children (Adams and Cohen 1974).

The above research evidence is reflected in a comment made by a thirty-two-year-old male elementary teacher from THE GROUP:

I've taught first, fourth, and sixth graders. I hate to admit it, but the attractiveness of the children is probably important in how I react to them. For first grade, however, I don't think it was that important. Probably because they were all so cute and energetic. But when you're dealing with fourth and sixth grades, there starts to be variation in how they look and develop. And I have found that I may call on the attrac­tive kids more often than the unattractive ones. But it's hard to separate attractiveness from personality. If the child is outgoing—and often cute kids are outgoing—then I'm going to interact with them more.

If students have the abilities, they are going to make it regardless of what they look like. But if they are average or below in abilities, it may help to be attractive. I found myself working very hard to draw out a sixth-grade girl who was shy and withdrawn. But I probably worked this hard because she was so pretty. I might not have worked as hard with an ugly child.

Perhaps teachers are more demanding, perhaps teachers try harder themselves with attractive children. In any case, research in this area provides compelling evidence that teachers' expectations (whether gen­erated by physical appearance or "special tests," as in the Oak School study, can spark a self-fulfilling prophecy. More discussion of how the self-fulfilling prophecy operates awaits in chapter 8.


In a revealing biography of rock star Janis Joplin, Myra Freidman (1974) describes how Joplin's unattractiveness affected her school life. Before adolescence Janis had been chubby. At adolescence, her chubbiness bloated to heft. She developed a disfiguring case of acne, severe enough to require sanding.

Janis became hated. She recalled that other teens threw things at her and called her names ("pig" was the favorite). Parents warned their children to avoid Janis' bad influence. Her teachers? In spite of the fact that she was smart and got good grades, they too disliked her person­ality. Her appearance was contemptible. She had repulsive body man­nerisms. Friedman observes that Janis, to protect herself from disinte­grating under the pressures, handled her conflicts, terrifying as they were, by acting them out.

Are teachers prejudiced in high school and college? Unfortunately, little empirical research has been done to examine this question. But we can speculate about what happens . . .

By high school, teacher-student interactions probably become a little more complicated than ever before. For example, women teachers may be biased in favor of handsome, athletic boys; but, for the first time, men teachers may be a little jealous of all that youthful virility.

Similarly, the reverse would be true—women teachers may be envious of good-looking girls, while men teachers favor them. There is no evidence, however, that such a jealousy effect operates.

The stereotypes about various kinds of beauty may get more dif­ferentiated in high school. For example, the beautiful blonde cheerleader may be stereotpyed for the first time as a dumb blonde, having little dedication to scholarly endeavors. A brawny, six-foot football player may be victimized by similar stereotypes.

What about college? In college, classes are often large. There may be four hundred to five hundred students in a single, large lecture hall. On first thought, you would think that in a large, impersonal class, where grades are given mechanically on an objective basis, all bias would disappear. Finally, the good-looking and the homely would have an equal chance. Ironically, the impersonality of large classes may make good looks essential. There is some evidence that in college, where most professors are men, the better-looking the college woman, the better grades she gets (Singer 1964). One reason for this result may simply be that pretty women are easier to remember. Singer (1964) describes what may happen:

Attractive girls get the benefit of doubts in grades. This would re­quire two assumptions. First, faculty give the benefit of the doubt when grading to those whose names and faces they associate and remember. Second, there are none so likely to have their names and faces remem­bered as attractive girls in the class. Although we have no evidence directly relating to this point, many of our colleagues acknowledged that they can recall the names of pretty girls in their classes, (p. 144)


The preceding evidence indicates that good looks are an important determinant of teachers' attitudes toward students. Can anything be done to help teachers behave more fairly—to lessen beauty's impact? Just reminding people of their biases probably helps to some extent. There is evidence that as teachers become better acquainted with their students, they are better able to view them as people rather as ster­eotypes. For example, when teachers learn not just what their students look like but a little about them—their sex, academic standing, race, and IQ—physical attractiveness becomes far less important (Kehle, Bramble, and Mason 1974). In one study (Solomon and Saxe 1977), people knew both how good-looking and how bright a college woman was (her grade point average and Graduate Record Examination scores were said to be either high or quite low). Looks were important, but not as important as IQ and performance. The bright woman was judged as having a more appealing personality and was expected to have greater occupational success and happiness.

Clifford (1975), an educational psychologist, has commented:

Although attractiveness may be a reliable determinant of an individual's initial impression formation, it is not necessarily a predictor of long-term academic effects. It may well be that as educational discriminators (e.g., verbal classroom behavior, conduct patterns, assignment scores) become available, teachers' initial expectations based on attractiveness are al­tered, (p. 208)

In other research, scientists made a fascinating discovery that we will discuss at greater length later. Apparently, students' intelligence and personality characteristics influence their attractiveness! Judgements of beauty (theoretically only "skin deep") are profoundly affected by inner beauty! For example, children thought to have academic or athletic assets are perceived as more attractive, at least by other children (Felson and Bohrnstedt 1979). In other words, although the beautiful are per­ceived as being talented, it is also true that the talented are perceived as being beautiful.

In summary, the "superstar," not the "superbeauty," gets to the head of the class. However, the path to the top may be somewhat

rocky. The superbeauty is more easily noticed than the superstar. Children's IQ scores are not brazen in bold letters on their T-shirts; they do not wear good conduct medals. So it is easy for teachers to forget the objective evidence when coming face-to-face with the child's appearance everyday. Superstars may have to prove themselves over and over again.


Teachers are not the only ones prejudiced . . . their little charges are too (Chaikin et al. 1978). In one study, nine-to thirteen-year-old boys and girls watched a videotape of a teacher presenting a lecture on basic concepts in psychology. The teacher was made to look either attractive or homely (her hair was pulled back tightly, dark circles were smudged under her eyes, her face was pale, shadows on her face were used to make her look "hard"). After the lecture, the students were asked to evaluate the teacher. The teacher's attractiveness had a dramatic impact on the ratings. They rated the attractive teacher as a "better teacher," "more enjoyable to have as a teacher," "more interesting." They also thought that, with an attractive teacher, it was easier to concentrate on the lesson, that the lesson was more enjoyable and more interesting to listen to, and that the teacher had tried harder (even though the teacher had behaved identically in the different videotapes). The students were also given a quiz testing their comprehension and retention of the lecture. In this case, teachers' looks did not matter. The students performed equally well—or poorly—regardless of how their teacher looked.

In another study (Goebel and Cashen 1979), it was found that students from second grade through college thought attractive teachers did their job better than did unattractive teachers. Attractive teachers were seen as more friendly, better organized, more likely to encourage students to interact—in short, as being better teachers overall. Worst yet, students suspected that the homely teachers would be most likely to load them up with too much work.

Possibly, a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs with teachers as well as with students. Children expect more from attractive teachers—and get more! Interactions between attractive students and attractive teachers must be especially rosy.

On-the-job Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids job discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin. It says nothing, however, about attractiveness. Perhaps it is not surprising that Title VII

fails to prohibit such discrimination-the Federal government itself has long been a blatant offender                                  government itselt has

legendty"13565 °' '' ^ ^ f°rmer director <* the FBI, were

wra e  ail male, and any deviation from the norm could cost an aeent his ,ob, from being overweight to bald                                         8

eleva^oTatTh/FRrT11;?' aCCOrding t0 the t3P6S' Hoover was on an man w th V               ^ * Washin§ton when he spotted a young

man with acne wearing a red vest. Hoover ordered the man fired  and he said that whomever hired him was to be punished. "We're noi 2L to have anybody working for us who wears a red vest and has a £ § ply face," he said. (Thomas 1982, 6)                                              P

Today, in government circles, little has changed. Nancv Reagan ST yT°HPPR°Sed *6 aPP°intment of Presidential pLs SecretL James Brady ( The Bear") (later seriously wounded by an assassin) because he was not good-looking enough to fit the Reagan image After Brady was Mred anyway, his press colleagues surrounded him with "She's grown accustomed to my face" (Time, 13 April 1981   p  4^


Most of us would be willing to concede that, in some occupations, it is legitimate for employers to make good looks a prerequisite for employment. For example, it seems reasonable that the Charles Stern Agency of Los Angeles would insist (as they do) that the men they hire for television commercials be over six feet, athletic-looking, and weigh 150-170 pounds, that Vogue would insist their models be stun­ningly beautiful. We do not mind if coaches insist on tall basketball players, if circus owners prefer midgets, or if dentists hire dental assistants with straight teeth.

For most occupations, however, it seems unfair for employers to discriminate. Generally, there is not an obvious link between good looks and competence. Elegant secretaries can not type faster than plainer ones. Tall executives can not think faster than short ones. Yet, employers often do use looks as a hiring standard, even in these situations.

Several years ago, Time magazine carried a little blurb about "Equal­ity for Uglies" (21 February 1972). It presented an observation by Washington Post Columnist William Rasberry:

According to Rasberry, discrimination against ugly women ("there's no nice way to say it") is the most persistent and pervasive form of em­ployment discrimination. Men, he argues, face no bias, except in the movies and in politics. Rasberry's sympathies lie not with the "mere Plain Janes, who can help themselves with a bit of pain and padding " but with the losers, the "real dogs," who supposedly would be working full-time if their features were more regular. Such discrimination, he in­sists, is all the more insidious because no one will admit that it exists No personnel officer in his right mind will tell a woman, "Sorry, lady but you need a nose job, and your lips don't match." And a woman so insulted would not be likely to publicize it. (p. 8)

Most often, employers' biases in favor of good-looking candidates are probably unconscious. Sometimes, however, personnel managers' biases are fully conscious. Hiring on the basis of looks may be especially pervasive when a job requires employees to deal with the public. The employer may know there is no real difference in competence between an attractive and an unattractive employee, but there may be a difference in how they are received by the public or by clients that could mean a difference in profit.

A twenty-one-year-old waitress from THE GROUP described the hiring procedures in the large restaurant where she works-

At my restaurant, I can see that the better looking waitresses get the job. Hostesses especially are known for being "cute" and having great bodies—that's the reason they are hired. A couple of hostesses were fired right off the bat—even though they were doing an O.K. job. But you could tell they weren't drawing men. The managers were keeping records. And they found that when certain "cute" hostesses were work­ing, more customers came in and kept coming back. These hostesses were promoted and the others were let go.

I know a lot of people who have applied at our restaurant—stacks and stacks of applications. And a lot of people are turned away who are competent. The ones who are hired have to be attractive.


Personnel managers are consistent in their biases; they are willing to admit they discriminate against everyone on the basis of looks—male and female. In one study, 60 percent of personnel managers stated that when deciding to hire a manager, they tried to determine whether or not the prospective manager looked like a manager (Quinn, Tabor, and Gordon 1968). Most personnel managers consider a "good appearance" even more important than a college education or being innovative, loyal to the firm, or sensitive to others (Bowman 1962, 1964).

There is also good evidence that this bias is not just "talk." Managers do not just say they prefer good-looking applicants; they put their biases into practice. In the typical experiment, personnel interviewers are asked to work through a pile of job applications. The set is "rigged"—the applicants' sex, competence, and physical attractiveness have been sys­tematically varied. Which applicants are hired? The compent were preferred to the incompent, men were preferred to women, the good-looking to the less attractive.

In one study (Dipboye, Fromkin, and Wiback 1975), thirty male industrial management students and thirty professional personnel in­terviewers from a wide range of companies evaluated a batch of resumes for the position of head of a furniture department. Each of the men received twelve resumes. A photograph (of either a good-looking or an unattractive applicant) was attached to each resume. Some of the ap­plicants were women; some were men. The applicant's scholastic stand­ing varied. Some of the applicants had good grades in their high school and college marketing classes; others did not. Some applicants were just average scholastically.

Who was hired? Even today, it is still a man's world—men were far more likely to get the position than were women, (additional evidence for this contention comes from Cash, Gillen, and Burns 1977; and Schuler and Berger 1979). Competence was the most important factor

in determining who was hired. Applicants with good scholastic quali­fications were preferred over those with low standings. Finally, for both men and women, it was an enormous advantage to be good-looking. Even professional interviewers, who had training and experience, dis­criminated on the basis of sex and physical attractiveness.

We interviewed one male recruiter for a large firm. He admitted that discrimination on the basis of physical attractiveness does occur:

I don't do it overtly, perhaps I inadvertently do it—weigh looks. But I know a lot of guys really do it. They'll say, "Boy, she's good looking." They'll even put it down right on the recruiting papers—"nice looking."

Good looks has become an attribute. In other words, it doesn't hurt. If you have two women walk into your office to be recruited, and both have the same grades, the nice looking one will get hired and that's a simple fact. Probably because the nice looking one can do more things than the not nice looking one—i.e., use her sex appeal, etc. to smooth over some clients.


Most personnel directors are biased, then. But certainly personnel in­terviewers of mediocre appearance themselves, who have personally suffered from injustice, can identify with "flawed" applicants. Surely, they would not discriminate in hiring. They must prefer someone of about their own level of attractiveness.

In "Know How to Interview for a Job," Milton Rockman (Wisconsin State Journal, 18 July 1982) argues that interviewers look for others similar to themselves in appearance:

It is unfortunate, but true, says Donald H. Sweet, vice-president of Cos-tello-Erdlem & Company, a Wellesley, Mass. consulting firm and former personnel director of the Celanese Company, that interviewer biases af­fect their hiring practices. Despite frequent disclaimers, many tend to hire on the basis of superficial first impressions involving appearance, clothes, height, or personal chemistry. They look for individuals much like themselves with whom they can feel comfortable. Sweet calls it "clonal hiring." (p. 22)

The evidence indicates that first impressions do count . . . but that everyone prefers the attractive applicant. So much for the kinship of suffering.

In one study, "personnel interviewers" (college students) were asked to evaluate a series of applicants for a managerial job. At the time they began their research, scientists expected the "interviewers" to be most biased in favor of those looking like themselves—no better and certainly

no worse. Attractive interviewers were expected to prefer attractive applicants, and unattractive interviewers to prefer unattractive appli­cants.

This optimistic prediction, however, was soon disconfirmed. Every­one preferred the good-looking applicants. Both attractive and homely interviewers were more likely to recommend hiring the attractive ap­plicant . . . and at a higher starting salary (both men and women were biased in favor of male applicants also) (Dipboye, Arvey, and Terpstra 1977). Job discrimination seems to occur regardless of who is sitting behind the desk.



Older workers confront overpowering discrimination. A Department of Labor survey found many jobs only open to people fifty-five-years of age and younger. Sometimes even people in the forty-five to fifty-five age range are discriminated against. At times it is not clear why older people are discriminated against. Sociologist Inge Powell Bell (1979) argues that physical attractiveness could be important:

The problem of discrimination against older men and women is complicated by the fact that a study would have to take into account whether discrimination was practiced because of expected lack of physi­cal strength, long training or internship programs, or physical attractive­ness. The former two considerations figure much more frequently in the case of men and certainly have more legitimacy as grounds for discrimi­nating than the factor of physical attractiveness, which usually arises solely because the woman is seen as a sex object before she is seen as a productive worker. As long as this is the employer's orientation, it will probably do little good to cite him the studies proving that middle aged women office workers are superior to young women in work at­tendance, performance and ability to get along agreeably with others, (p. 241)


Of course, there are some instances when great beauty can be a handicap in getting a job. Marilyn Monroe, for example, was turned down for the part of Grushenka in Dostoyevsky's (1958) The Brothers Karamazov because she was too beautiful to be credible. Actress Morgan Fairchild has said, "I've lost a lot of parts because they said I was too beautiful, too classic, too glamorous. One producer told me, 'No one will identify with you' " (Kramer, Parade, 4 July 1982).


Psychologists (Heilman and Saruwatari 1979) have speculated that in traditional business circles, although dazzling women may have an advantage in securing traditional, low-paying, "feminine" jobs, they may have a distinct disadvantage in competing for traditional "men's jobs." To determine if this assumption is true, the researchers asked men and women to evaluate a collection of applications for a white-collar job. In some cases, the job was clerical; it was described as a Level 8 job with a salary of $6,000-$8,000. In other cases, the job was a managerial position—a Level 6 job, with a salary of $14,000-$16,000. Attached to the employment form was the applicant's photograph. The man or woman's photo, a bogus one, was either attractive or homely.

If the applicant was a man, good looks were an advantage in getting hired, regardless of whether the job was clerical or managerial. If the applicant was a woman, however, beauty only helped when the job was clerical. When the job was a high-status managerial one, "beauty was beastly." Interviewers assumed homely women were more qualified for the managerial job; they were more eager to hire them and at a higher starting salary.

Why would traditional employers discriminate against beautiful women for "fast track" positions? Apparently, a woman's attractiveness enhances the perception of feminity, and for these traditional men, feminity is supposedly incongruent with the skill and talent required in high-status managerial jobs. Beautiful women may seem ill suited for men's work. Homely women, on the other hand, are apparently seen as "one of the guys." The researchers concluded, "This finding sadly implies that women should strive to appear as unattractive and as masculine as possible if they are to succeed in advancing their careers by moving into powerful organizational positions" (p. 371).

In another study (Cash, Gillen, and Burns 1977), unattractive women were more likely to be considered for the traditional men's jobs of automobile salesperson and wholesale hardware shipping and receiving clerk than attractive women. On the other hand, attractive women were more likely to be considered for the "feminine" jobs of telephone operator and office receptionist.

Obviously, in traditional circles there seems to be a stereotype that high-status and "masculine-type" jobs may not be appropriate for women—particularly for attractive women (viewed as the epitome of all that is feminine). A note: We suspect the preceding studies might exaggerate the problems beautiful career women face. Our own ex­ploratory work has begun to reveal two factors executive women must consider in dressing for success—good looks and appropriateness. (This last factor may be of overriding importance.) We suspect that women

can look as beautiful as they want, as long as their hair is arranged in a businesslike style and they are dressed appropriately for the job.

In some of the preceding research (which seemed to depict beauty as a disadvantage) there was some confusion between beauty and appropriateness. The stimulus pictures showed that apparently a few of the beautiful women did not appear as businesslike as the plainer women. (Their hair was too long and sultry; they wore the wrong kind of eye makeup.) They were beautiful, but subtly wrong for an executive position. We suspect that beautiful women may actually be more mar­ketable than plainer women, if everyone is dressed appropriately.

In any case, even if subsequent research shows we are wrong and that, currently, beauty and success do not mix, there is some suggestion that this situation may be changing. Recently, some educators became concerned that traditional sterotyping (i.e., that beauty and profession­alism do not mix) might be preventing young women from pursuing careers in professional fields. They found, however, that among young people no such stereotyping exists. For example, in one study (Lanier and Bryne 1981), a group of high school students was shown twenty slides of beautiful to ugly women. They were told that some of these women were engineers, lawyers, doctors, oceanographers, architects, and executives. Could they guess which women were the professionals? A second group was shown slides of the same women and was told that half the women had taken some of the following courses in high school: mechanical drawing, physics, calculus, chemistry, and political science. Which women had taken these courses? Both high school boys and girls took it for granted that beauty and brains do mix. The new generation simply assumed the attractive women had the professional careers and had taken the traditionally masculine high school courses.


For the moment, however, career women seem caught in a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't world. On the one hand, sometimes they are encouraged to look very feminine—if it helps get the job done. On the other hand, they can not be too attractive or they may not be taken seriously by those in power (as the previous studies indicate). Furthermore, if they are to be prepared for the world of tomorrow, they should always try to look their best. Career magazines—such as Savvy and Working Woman—reflect this confusion. Their ads suggest women should be softly feminine, muskily sexy, and relentlessly dom­inant, all at the same time (a hard bit of advice to follow).

Given this confusion, how should a woman dress for a job interview? Just what "look" is right will depend on the occupation, of course. The

good looks that land a man a job as a United States senator or as a cowboy in a movie (i.e., tough, decisive, and virile) is different from the look that will land him a job in a male fashion magazine (pretty and elegant). The good looks that help get a woman a job on the floor of the stock exchange are different from the look that will get her a job as a bar girl in a Hotel Street dive.

Investigators have examined what people should wear when job hunting. (Rucker, Taber, and Harrison 1981) In a study sponsored by the Research Committee of the Western College Placement Association (Anton and Russell 1974), college recruiting officers and managers assessed applicants' job potential. Male applicants were most appealing when wearing suits, ties, sport coats, slacks, and dress suits in contrast to T-shirts, shorts, jeans, and sandals (as you might guess, the latter were taboo). Recruiters preferred women who wore blouses, heels, and nylon stockings when applying for a job. (They reacted negatively to sandals, shorts, jeans, and the "bra-less look.")

Kelley et al. (1976) found much the same thing. They concluded that dressing for the office should be a "conservative but fashionable look with an emphasis on being neat and well-groomed." Molloy in his books, Dress for Success (1975) and The Woman's Dress for Success Book (1977), has said, "Dressing to succeed in business and dressing to be sexually attractive are almost mutually exclusive." He suggests long sleeves and high necklines for women.

What a woman wears for a job interview and what she wears when secure in her job, however, are two different things. We conducted an interview with Brian Shapiro, a top accounting executive from a "Big 8" accounting firm in Los Angeles. He describes what happens in his profession:

In the Big 8, there has always been a myth that you have to dress like "an accountant" to succeed. Of course, the question is, What do accountants look like? . .  . and then, Why should they dress like that? There has always been a kind of "militarism" in the Big 8. You have to wear a suit. That was fine for years, but about the mid-70s, the wom­en's movement finally began to infiltrate the previously untouched ac­counting community. There started to become a number of women ac­counting majors—and, of course, the large firms started hiring them. Now the problem became—We know that the men should dress in dark, conservative suits, but how should the women dress? We didn't know. On the one hand, we thought women should look professional. But on the other hand, shouldn't they look feminine too? Why can't accountants be feminine?

Over the last six years, I have seen the predominantly male partner group adopt a double standard in what is demanded of women. On one hand, they want women to look old and conservative. On the other

hand, suddenly, they would like women accountants to look "sexy," be­cause they think that's what the clients want to see. If you are going to hire women, why not use their sex appeal for professional gain—to ob­tain rapport with the clients? I hate to admit it, but I have seen it used. I have seen partners suggest that one woman, who is extremely well-endowed, wear certain outfits to certain jobs, when they know that, for instance, professionally teasing an "old letch" would help the firm. And it works ... I have seen it done. If women auditors can learn to use their femininity, it seems to loosen up the clients. Like it or not, it works.


Not only are good-looking applicants more likely to be hired, but they are more likely to be hired at a higher starting salary. In one study, interviewers were told an applicant had been hired; they were asked merely to recommend a starting salary. Who were given higher salaries? Once again, the physically attractive, the highly qualified, and, of course, the men (Dipboye, Arvey, and Terpstra 1977). Another researcher (Waters 1980) discovered a "Cinderella syndrome." She found that personnel managers and employment counselors from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York gave a higher starting salary to a woman when she was made up attractively than when the same woman appeared to be plain. It was most important to be beautiful in secretarial positions, least important in managerial ones.


Given all these considerations, the discovery that the good-looking are likely to end up with jobs higher in pay and prestige than their less appealing competitors probably comes as no surprise. In 1971-1973, Robert P. Quinn (1978) examined data from three national surveys conducted at the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center. All in all, more than 800 men and 470 women ranging in age from sixteen up and employed full-time were interviewed. Interviewers rated the person's physical appearance (were they "strikingly handsome or beau­tiful," "good-looking," "average-looking," "quite plain," or "homely?"). Interviewers recorded what participants' jobs were, and how much they got paid for doing them. They found that, for both men and women, physical attractiveness was tightly linked with income and occupational prestige (see Table 2.1).

The income of "handsome/good-looking" men was $1,869 higher than that of "plain/homely" men.  The income of "beautiful/good-

TABLE 2.1    The Relationship Between Looks and Career Success

RATINGS OF YEARLY                                OCCUPATIONAL

ATTRACTIVENESS                                             INCOME                                      PRESTIGE


"Strikingly handsome" or

"good-looking"                                     $10,093                             49.6

"Average"                                               $ 9,216                             42.4

"Quite plain" or "Homely"                      $ 8,224                             31.4


"Strikingly beautiful" or

"good-looking"                                     $ 5,874                             50.8

"Average"                                               $ 5,043                             42.0

"Quite plain" or "Homely"                      $ 4,647                             33.6

source: Table based on data available in Quinn (1972)

looking women was $1,227 higher than that of their "plain/homely" counterparts.

The researchers measured occupational prestige by Duncan's So­cioeconomic Status Scale (Reiss, Duncan, Hatt, and North 1961). This scale lists almost every conceivable job (on a scale of 1 to 100) according to how much prestige people, in general, attach to the occupation. They found that good-looking men and women tended to have jobs rated around 49-50 in prestige. (The jobs in that range include clergymen, music teachers, floor managers, bookkeepers, photographers, student nurses, and managers of food stores.) Homely men and women held jobs of lower prestige, in the 31-34 range (including housekeepers, building superintendents and managers, boilermakers, machinists, and gasoline service sation managers). Obviously, good looks pay—in money and in prestige.


If you are not much to look at, getting a job is difficult in the first place. If you do get a job, you may have to work extra hard to get a good evaluation. Considerable evidence exists documenting that teachers and employers treat plain women's (and perhaps men's) efforts with less respect than they deserve—especially when judgments have to be subjective.


In one study (Landy and Sigall 1974), college men were asked to judge how "compelling," "logical," and "convincing" an essay was (the essay was on the role of television in society). Attached to most of the essays was a photograph of either a beautiful woman or of an ugly one. Other essays had no attached photograph. One of the essays was well written; a second was shoddily composed (there were errors in grammar, the logic was appalling, the ideas were bland and unexciting, and it was cliche ridden.) The men were most impressed by a given essay if they believed it was written by a beautiful woman. They were less impressed when they did not know what the authoress looked like and totally unimpressed when they believed she was ugly. The authoresses' looks were important even when the essay was first-rate, but they were critically important when the essay was not. Good looks seemed to make the grammar and logic less appalling, and the ideas a little less bland.

Judges display the same bias when assessing artists' work. In one study, both men and women judged paintings to be more appealing when they thought the artist was a pretty woman. They liked the work least when they thought she was plain (Murphy and Hellkamp 1976). (Similar results were secured by Holahan and Stephan 1981.)

Researchers also find we are "unbiased" in our biases. People are prejudiced in favor of the beautiful and against the ugly, regardless of the employee's, writer's, or artist's race, creed, or color (Maruyama and Miller 1980).

So far, we have discussed employer's biases against women. What about men? Does a handsome writer or artist have an advantage over an ugly one? If so, are men and women equally biased against men? Does a jealousy factor operate when employers are judging the work of striking people of the same sex? Kaplan (1978) argues that employers should be most biased in favor of attractive members of the opposite sex; they should be far less favorably disposed toward good-looking members of their own sex. In fact, employees might even be prejudiced against the latter. After all, these are their competitors! Experiments have been conducted to determine if jealousy shapes our evaluation of others.

In a pair of experiments, Kaplan (1978) investigated all the questions just raised. Men and women were asked to judge an essay, supposedly written by either a man or a woman who was either attractive or unattractive. The essay was on patriotism and was designed to emulate the style of an untalented college freshman. As before, men were markedly swayed by the woman author's beauty in assessing her competence. Women were not—in fact, the women judges actually

judged the beautiful woman's work slightly more critically than the ugly woman's. What about the men's essays? Neither men nor women showed any bias in favor of the good-looking men! The conclusion? Apparently, men are most likely to confuse beauty with competence, and they are most likely to confuse the two only when judging women. (Unfortunately, since most employers are men, this bias may be fairly pervasive.) There is no evidence that people take men's looks into account when judging their performance (of course, given all the other data scattered throughout this book, subsequent research may show that handsome men are seen to perform handsomely too, but, as yet, such documentation does not exist).

One recent study found that "beauty does not equal talent." Holahan and Stephan [1981] found that, as in the studies above, when an essay was poor, a beautiful writer was judged to be more talented than the homely one. However, these authors found that when the essay was good, attractive writers were actually discriminated against. This is the first time anyone has secured such results. These conclusions, if they hold up, may suggest that men believe beautiful women are smarter, but [enough is enough] they cannot be too smart!)

Does egalitarianism affect men's responses to good-looking/ugly women? Psychologists have speculated that traditional men might be even more inclined than liberal men to forgive an attractive woman for her flaws. To test this notion, psychologists (Holahan and Stephan 1981) asked men and women about their sex role attitudes via the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Spence and Helmreich 1972). On this scale, men and women with traditional attitudes are expected to agree with statements such as:

1.   Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers.

2.   The intellectual leadership of a community should be largely in the hands of men.

3.   There are many jobs in which men should be given preference over women in being hired or promoted.

4.   Femininism and women's liberation threaten to destroy the family institution and women's natural place in the world.

5.   For the sake of their children, women should be willing to stay at home and not seek outside employment.

Men and women with liberal attitudes would be expected to disagree with the above statements.

As the authors suspected, only traditional men equated women's beauty with competence.  In fact, liberal men evidently leaned over

backwards to be fair—they actually showed a slight bias in favor of the homely women's essays. Women were fairly evenhanded in their judge­ments of beautiful versus ugly women, regardless of their traditionality. The preceding study clearly shows that not everyone is strongly biased in favor of the good-looking. Different people have different experiences, and thus they develop different implicit personality the­ories—i.e., different conceptions of what traits go together. For most people, the belief that beauty equals competence is deeply ingrained. A few of us, however, are not so sure.


Possibly, beauty is not always an advantage. It is extraordinarily difficult to judge the quality of an essay or a painting. In such circumstances, good looks can give the artist an edge. However, some performances are not so ambiguous—the lawyer either wins or loses the case, the salesman either makes or does not make the sale, the mathematician either solves the equation or waves his hands. When an employee does not complete the job, looks will probably not help bail him or her out, at least, not for long.

A California executive describes how looks can backfire.

If someone is very good-looking, she is noticeable. It's impossible for an extremely good-looking woman to have a low profile. When she walks into a room, everyone looks. She can't blend into a crowd.

Her high profile means that more people will be examining her strengths and weaknesses. Someone who is average-looking, can have lousy skills, but it won't be noticed until late in her career. No one is looking.

In any technical profession, looks will get you in the door, but be­lieve me, performance is what gets you promoted. Looks can backfire.

A middle-aged professional woman from THE GROUP argued there is extra pressure on an attractive woman to perform well.

I think, initially, attractiveness is a plus. It's been true for me. I've gotten jobs because I'm reasonably attractive and present myself well. But while it's a big plus initially, somewhere along the line, someone inevitably says: "Wait a minute. Can she deliver the goods?" They may even be irritated because you are attractive, and so you had better de­liver the goods! There is sort of a boomerang effect. They may even discount you—at least initially—because of your good looks. You have to prove your competence.

Here's something that happened to me recently: I was elected to be on an important state committee—a 30-member committee, all men. But I was nominated in a devastating way. An important committee member stood up and announced in front of everyone, "We have to have Audry

on the committee—she's the prettiest thing here." I was stunned! Shocked! I couldn't say anything. I wasn't prepared for such a state­ment. This was supposed to be a professional group. We were all there because we had professional credentials. Such a statement seemed so unprofessional. After getting over my initial astonishment, my reaction was to get very, very angry. The thought crossed my mind that I would show them by refusing the honor. But then I calmed down, and remem­bered that I was there because I was representing people who weren't represented. I could serve a useful function on the committee. My reac­tion, as I was driving home from the meeting, went something like this: "Ok, now you know what the score is. Your looks put you on a com­mittee, but now you're going to show them what a pretty face can do— you're going to show them that you can deliver the goods. And you're going to deliver the goods first-class!" And that's just what I did.

Chapter 3

The Ugly: Mad or Bad?

If you do not like someone's looks, it is easy to conclude there must be something "wrong" with them. Therapists point out there are three ways we discount people: we accuse them of being "stupid" (discussed in chapter 2), "mad," or "bad."

In this chapter, we are going to focus on the assumption that "what is ugly is mad and bad." First, we will examine people's perceptions of attractive versus unattractive people's mental health. Next, we will examine how attractiveness affects judgments about aspects of character, shaping even judgments of guilt and innocence in the justice system. Finally, we will go beyond examining stereotypes and will consider how attractive versus unattractive people in distress are actually treated.


Mental health professionals are not immune to the glow cast by beauty. There is compelling evidence that social workers, psychologists, psy­chiatrists, and the rest of us respond very differently to good-looking


Figure 3.2.    Lipot Szondi (Szondi, Moser, and Webb 1959) argued that psy­chologists could discover a person's genetic predisposition toward mental ill­ness or criminality by observing the extent to which they were attracted by or repelled by the mentally ill or criminal. (The principle seems to be "birds of a feather flock together" and "opposites attract." The Sjondi Test required individuals to look at a variety of people, all outstandingly homely, and to say which they liked most or least. Those people chosen as the most and the least liked, he concluded, were most similar to that individual. Here, at least, ugliness was linked to madness and badness.

versus ugly people. In general, people tend to attribute greater psy­chological disturbance to homely people than to attractive ones.

Much of the evidence that beauty equals sanity comes from studies done with college students who were asked to imagine they are psy­chotherapists. Typically, the men and women listened to recorded interviews or watched videotapes in which clients recounted their prob­lems. Then the "therapists" were asked to evaluate the clients and make suggestions for treatment. It seems very difficult for people to believe that good-looking clients are really disturbed and need profes­sional help. They have no trouble at all imagining that homely men and women are in trouble (Cash, Kehr, Polyson, and Freeman 1977; Cash and Salzbach 1978; Hobfall and Penner 1978; Jones, Hansson, and Phillips 1978).

It is interesting to know that the man-on-the-street (or the student-on-campus) confuses comeliness with sanity; but, it is fascinating to discover that mental health professionals share their biases—and they

do. In one study (Barocas and Vance 1974), it was found that counselors at the University of Rochester Counseling Center were influenced by the physical attractiveness of the troubled students they saw. They assumed their striking clients had better personal adjustment and better prognosis than did their unattractive clients.

Perhaps the most revealing information about therapists' biases comes from in-depth interviews. Family therapist Morton Perlmutter (Perlmutter 1978; also reported in Hatfield and Perlmutter 1983) ques­tioned Wisconsin psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists, and psy­chiatric social workers about the ways in which a client's looks affected the therapy process. Perlmutter's interviews were revealing. Client's appeal evidently has a profound impact on therapists' first impressions, their diagnoses, and even on the eventual outcome of therapy. Here are some of the things Perlmutter and others have learned.


Psychotherapists were well aware that the clients' beauty or ugliness is a critical issue for them. They readily admitted they prefer YAVIS (young, attractive, verbal, interesting, and successful) clients and avoid OUIBF (old, ugly, inarticulate, boring, failures) (Schofield 1964).

They were also aware that, in spite of their liking for beautiful clients, it is difficult to deal with them. (Since almost all the psycho­therapists Perlmutter interviewed were men, when he speaks of ther­apists' problems in dealing with good-looking "clients," he is really referring to the problems men have dealing with beautiful women.) Therapists admitted they have mixed motives when dealing with good-looking clients. On the one hand, they are sensitive to professional ethical standards and want to be objective. On the other hand, they know objectivity is impossible. Therapists are attracted to strikingly beautiful women, and they can not help hoping the women return their interest.


When dealing with pretty patients, therapists found themselves acting out stereotyped roles. The men acted in a more machismo way, the women in a softer, more feminine way. (Other data show that people do try to look their best when confronting beautiful people, and "their best" generally means conforming to traditional sex roles [see Shaw and Wagner 1975].)

In general, therapists tried to be charming, alluring, and desirable with their attractive clients. One therapist served coffee to beautiful women, while expecting his other clients to help themselves. A few

therapists admitted they had a hidden desire to become more intimate with their good-looking patients and thought of seducing them. (Some­times, therapists' desires are not so hidden—12 percent of men therapists and 3 percent of women therapists admit they do engage in sexual intimacies with their clients) [McCartney 1966; Pope, Levenson, and Schover 1979].)


Perlmutter found that, most of the time, therapists and clients had a fairly easy time settling on clear-cut and limited goals. When dealing with beautiful women, however, therapists tended to get confused about just what their goals were. They might start out with clear-cut objectives, but they found themselves continually revising things. Frequently, their diagnoses were complex and mixed.

In the end, the therapists tended to settle upon intrapsychic inter­pretations of beautiful women's problems. They generally decided the beautiful woman herself was the key, making it unnecessary to bring in her husband or family. In support of Perlmutter's findings, Schofield (1964) discovered that attractive men and women are more likely to obtain individual psychotherapy than are homely clients.

The therapists Perlmutter interviewed assumed that beautiful clients were mentally healthier than run-of-the-mill clients. (Probably thera­pists' biases are reinforced by the fact that, when people are acutely distressed, it is extraordinary difficult for them to look their best.) A number of other researchers have found that laymen and psychologists are swayed by appearance when attempting to decide how mentally healthy another person is.

Other evidence indicates that being influenced by a client's looks may depend on the therapist's particular style of therapy. For example, Muirhead (1979) interviewed two types of therapists—Freudian ther­apists and more eclectic ones. (Eclectic therapists try to take the best of everything from existing schools of thought.) The therapists were shown a photograph of a client. Some of the clients were handsome or ugly men, others were beautiful or ugly women. The therapists then reviewed the client's background information. The client was presented as a bright college student from a normal, middle-class family, with no known history of mental illness.

Finally, the therapist listened to a psychiatric interview. During the session, the clients complained they were tense for no apparent reason. They felt listless. They wasted a lot of time just sitting around watching television. Recently, they had started to have some problems with their parents. They knew their parents had good intentions, but they expected too much. There was too much pressure.  They were angry at their

THE UGLY: MAD OR BAD?         73

folks. They felt guilty, too. The therapists had to decide: was the client crazy, or just like the rest of us?

Unexpectedly, this study found that the philosophical orientations of the therapists had a substantial impact on their evaluations. For some reason, Freudian therapists (and only the Freudians) had difficulty remaining objective when their client was a beautiful woman. They thought the beautiful woman was unusually well adjusted. In fact, they rated her more positively than an unattractive woman on a number of dimensions. She was judged to be brighter, better able to express herself, less in need of support, better adjusted sexually, and more self-revealing and less defensive. Conversely, therapists of every theoretical orientation looked at men objectively: they evaluated handsome and homely men in an evenhanded way. (Similar results have been secured by Barocas & Vance, [1974]; Cash, Kehr, Polyson, and Freeman, [1977]; Cash and Salzbach [1978]; Hobfall and Penner [1978]; Jones, Hansson, and Phillips [1978].)


Perlmutter found that therapists are influenced by their clients' "market value" when deciding what their patients can reasonably expect out of life. There is some evidence that therapists, like the rest of us, may value appearance so much that it affects the goals they set for therapy. Therapists may encourage (even demand) that attractive people insist on getting everything they want—from their intimates, their bosses and coworkers, and from life in general. They may be less adament in setting the same goals for homely clients.

There is even evidence that people's judgments as to whether or not women have something to live for may depend on their beauty! Psychologists (Pavlos and Newcomb 1974) asked men to read a case history about a woman who had attempted suicide by taking an overdose of medicine. The woman was said to have either treatable cancer with a prognosis for complete recovery or terminal cancer with no hope. Attached to the case material was a photograph of an attractive woman, a photograph of an unattractive woman, or no photograph at all. The men were asked to indicate how "justified" the woman was in at­tempting suicide. When the cancer was treatable, a beautiful woman was seen as less justified in attempting suicide than a homely one. Apparently, it was assumed the beautiful woman had everything to live for. On the other hand, when the cancer was terminal, the beautiful woman was seen as more justified in attempting suicide. Perhaps it was assumed that when there was no hope, the attractive woman had more right to feel despair at how the cards had been dealt.


The therapists Perlmutter (1978) interviewed reported that they spent more time with their beautiful patients. Usually, before settling down to business, therapists and clients engage in small talk. When their patients were beautiful, therapists reported spending an unusual amount of time "warming up." They also spend more time in chit-chat at the end of the hour. Perhaps they were reluctant to terminate the session. All in all, therapists ended up spending far more time with lovely clients than with any others.

Other researchers (Barocas and Black 1974; Katz and Zimbardo 1977) have confirmed that attractive men and women do get more of their psychiatrist's time than do other patients.


In sum, therapist/client relationships are very different when clients are attractive. Are attractive clients also more likely to get well? As always, it depends.

In general, Perlmutter concluded that therapist's biases work to the good-looking client's advantage. Therapists try harder, and their efforts work. Most good-looking patients solve their problems with unusual swiftness (Farina et al. 1977 report similar results). Perlmutter provides one example:

The client was a startlingly beautiful housewife. She was so tradi­tional, she was unable to deal with her children, however. The oldest boy, who was 14, thought that he was the man of the family. He bossed her around, and if she "talked back," he hit her. She was a smoldering volcano; unable to express anger directly. (When upset, she became incapable of speaking; she signaled her distress by waving her arms wildly). The therapist took a personal interest in her case. He saw her three to four times a week. When her insurance ran out, he contin­ued to see her, for free. He helped her a great deal. The family rela­tions improved enormously. This time, the therapist's exceptional atten­tion had exceptional results.

Barocas and Black (1974) and Katz and Zimbardo (1977) insist such cases are typical. They find that, in general, good-looking patients receive more, and better, treatment than do their so-so counterparts.

The results are not always so positive, however. When therapists are unusually concerned about achieving success, sometimes they begin to try harder, in fact, too hard, possibly resulting in poor therapy. Perlmutter cites an example:

Two therapists reported difficulties with the same woman. She was a handsome woman, who had poliomyelitis in adolescence and, as a result, had lost the musculature in her calves. Therapist #1 saw her for a few sessions, but soon realized it was impossible to continue seeing her. His physical attraction to her, and his pity for her, rendered him ineffective. He found himself observing: "How can anyone so beautiful be so maimed?" and having fantasies about how he might rescue her . . . instead of working on her problems.

Therapist #1 referred her to Therapist #2. He suggested to Thera­pist #2 that she needed quick symptom relief. (She was phobic; she worried that she'd fall over in her wheelchair and be hurt. She was worried that people would invade her house and injure her. She was suicidal.) Once these symptoms were ameliorated, Therapist #1 thought long-term psychotherapy could begin.

Therapist #2, too, had problems. He decided to persevere in ther­apy, however. In retrospect, he realized that had been a mistake. He admitted that he, too, had become so personally involved with her, that he had failed as a therapist. He never attempted quick symptom relief. In fact, he persisted in denying that she had any real problems—he would insist "You're as capable of getting around as the rest of us." Obviously she was not. What he really needed to do was to acknowl­edge her limitations—to consult with an expert in such handicaps, who could teach her to deal with her handicaps. After three years of therapy, she showed no improvement. If anything, she was worse.

Good looks is usually an advantage, but not always.

The Patient Strikes Back

It is not just therapists who are biased—clients are too. The experimental evidence makes clear that patients have more confidence in good-looking therapists than in less attractive ones.

In one study (Cash, Begley, McCown, and Weise 1975), students watched a young, professional, male counselor in action (via a vi­deotape). The man's appearance was altered cosmetically—sometimes he was unusually appealing, sometimes not. The attractive counselor was judged to be more intelligent, friendly, assertive, trustworthy, competent, warm, and likeable. He was also expected to be a better counselor. Other research indicates these biases also occur with female counselors (see Cash and Kehr 1978; Lewis and Walsh 1978).

What happens, however, when you see a counselor for session after session? Does the effect of physical attractiveness wear off? To examine this question, researchers (Vargas and Borkowski 1982) had men observe a woman counselor dealing with a client over several sessions. For some observers, the counselor was very good-looking. Sometimes, she was made quite homely. The first session was an intake interview.

During the next two sessions, the client discussed his problems—he had difficulty knowing what to say to women and had trouble getting dates.

The researchers were interested in just how much a therapist's beauty can affect her perceived effectiveness, so they made up two sets of tapes. In the first set of tapes, the counselor—good-looking or not— was very good. She used Rogers' (1951) client-centered approach, and was empathetic, genuine, and encouraging. On other tapes, she did a terrible job of counseling. She even insulted the client by making comments such as, "If you've been here for two years and have only had a couple dates, that's pretty bad." After the third session, the men were asked to evaluate the counselor.

It was found that, regardless of whether the counselor was skilled or unskilled, physical attractiveness gave her an extra boost in how effective she was perceived to be—even after three sessions. In judging the counselor's future success in treating problems, however, the men were influenced by the physical attractiveness of the counselor only if she was skilled. If the counselor was incompetent, apparently enough was enough. Even if she was pretty to look at, men were not willing to say they would go back for more. Apparently, for both therapists and their clients, it is a real advantage to be YAVIS.


In the last chapter, we discussed parent's and teacher's biases in judging students' academic work. What about the other side of the report card— the citizenship side? You may remember the praise (or critical remarks) teachers jotted down on your report card: "Gets along well with class­mates," "A disturbing element," 'Picks on smaller children . . . and the teacher." Seemingly, ugly children are more likely to get a poor citizenship report, even when they behave exactly like attractive chil­dren. Ugly adults also face the same negative judgments.

Ugly As Sin: Juvenile Style

In a now classic study, psychologist Karen Dion (1972) suspected that adults would react very differently to cute versus homely children when they misbehaved, even if they had done exactly the same thing. She asked college women to read through a teacher's "notes," describing a child's activities during the day. Attached to the notes was a pho­tograph of either a cute or a homely seven-year-old boy or girl. The teacher's notes were rigged. They described an incident in which the child hurt either a dog or another child and in either a trivial or in a

fairly serious way. For example, Note #1 described an aggressive act so minor it could hardly be called aggression. The child merely stepped on a sleeping dog's tail and caused it to yelp. Note #2, however, described an act against a dog which was far more serious. This time the note read:

At the one corner of the playground a dog was sleeping. Peter stood a short distance from the dog, picked up some sharp stones from the ground, and threw them at the animal. Two of the stones struck the dog and cut its leg. The animal jumped up yelping and limped away. Peter continued to throw rocks at it as it tried to move away from him.

Notes #3 and #4 described an incident in which the cruelty was directed toward another child. Note #3 described a mild incident in which the child threw a snowball that hit another child's leg, causing the leg to sting. In the more serious incident, Note #4 reported the child had packed a snowball with ice and aimed it at another child's head; the child suffered a deep and bleeding cut.

Were women swayed by the children's looks when making judg­ments about their characters? As long as the children's misbehavior was mild, women were reasonably objective. They found both attractive and unattractive children "not guilty." As the children's cruelty became more serious, however, women's emotions began to get in the way of their objectivity. An unattractive child was more likely to be seen as guilty than an attractive child.

The women also explained the misbehavior of attractive and un­attractive children in different ways. Women tended to attribute a homely child's misbehavior to a "rotten" personality and character. On the one hand, the attractive child's actions were attributed to temporary mood states and situational forces. For example, when an attractive child had hurt the dog or child, women typically made comments such as:

She appears to be a perfectly charming little girl; well-mannered, basi­cally unselfish. It seems that she can adapt well among children her age and makes a good impression . .  . she plays well with everyone, but like anyone else, a bad day can occur. Her cruelty need not be taken too seriously, (reported in Berscheid and Hatfield [Walster] 1974, 193)

However, when the same act was committed by a plain child, women typically said such things as:

I think the child would be quite bratty and would be a problem to teachers .  .  . she would probably try to pick a fight with other children her own age . . . she would be a brat at home ... all in all, she would be a real problem, (p. 193)

"Would the child do it again?" the women were asked. Probably— if the child is ugly. Women thought the ugly child was most likely to be a "repeat offender."

A Note: Not every study has found that teachers are more lenient toward good-looking children. One study found that, occasionally, teach­ers are harsher in their treatment of attractive boys and girls. They expect adorable children to behave well, and thus they are unusually disappointed when they don't. Perhaps it is also a threat to self-esteem when teachers or parents find they can not even control a seemingly "perfect" child. In one study, Marwit, Marwit, and Walker (1978) asked student teachers and practicing teachers from the St. Louis public schools to look at a cute versus a homely ten-year-old boy's classroom behavior (he either threw a tantrum in class or stole lunch money from his teacher's desk) and to say how serious they thought the misbehavior was. Student teacher's judgments were not affected by the boy's looks. Actual teachers, however, were biased, but in this case, they were the least tolerant of the attractive child's misbehavior. Apparently, although

teachers are generally tolerant of cute children, there are limits to their tolerance.

Disciplining Attractive Versus Unattractive Children

Given the diverse perceptions of the women in the above study by Dion (1974) as to why appealing versus homely children behaved as they did, we might expect women' opinions to differ about how the troublemaker should be treated. Surprisingly, the women did not rec­ommend different punishments for the attractive and unattractive chil­dren. All the women agreed the teacher should discuss things with the child, regardless of how attractive or homely the child. Women were opposed to withdrawal of love, physical punishment, and other alter­native forms of punishment for all the children. Nevertheless, one wonders whether an unattractive child perceived to be a chronic troub­lemaker would not be "reasoned with" more swiftly than would a good-looking child, and whether the discussion would not proceed along somewhat different lines.

Although the women in the Dion study did not believe in physical punishment, obviously children do get physically punished. In fact, two million children are abused each year, and at least two thousand of them die from their injuries. A duet of experiments explored the chilling notion that parents direct their hostility toward the most unattractive child in the family (Berkowitz and Frodi 1979). Researchers involved women in an investigation of the dynamics of parent-child relationships in two complicated experiments. The researchers arranged for a couple to have either a delightful or a stressful encounter with each another. The question was: How would the couple's encounter affect the way the mother treated the child? Would it matter what the child looked like?

Women were asked to act along with a man (actually an experi­mental confederate) as parents to a ten-year-old child. First, the re­searchers arranged for the "couple" to have either a delightful or a stressful encounter. In these experiments, the child's looks were sys­tematically varied. Sometimes the boy or girl was very good-looking (the child's natural appearance). Sometimes, however, the same child was made up to be singularly unappealing. He or she had dark circles under the eyes and stringy hair.

The researchers found that even in the best of times (when the "couple" had had a pleasant encounter), women were less gentle with the unappealing child than with the cute one. They were more likely to punish a homely child than an attractive child for errors made in homework. When the woman was angry at the man, however, things got worse, and even more unfair. In more trying circumstances, women

were reasonably restrained with cute children, but they really "took things out" on homely ones. Evidently, beauty protects children from others' anger; ugliness makes them a moving target.

A recent Associated Press story provides a telling example of this finding. The headline read:


METAIRIE, La. (AP)—A 17-month old girl, snatched from her home by a gunman who stuffed her into a gift-wrapped box, was found unhurt after a man telephoned her anxious parents and said she was too pretty to kill, authorities say.

"He called and told us . . . she was such a beautiful baby, other­wise he would have wasted her," the toddler's father, Ron Hocum, said later Tuesday. (Associated Press, 4 February 1981)

A critic might object that these studies were limited to examining only how strangers treat children. The studies do not tell us how real parents reach to their own children. This criticism loses some of its punch, however, when we recall that, in real life, people in authority (social workers, policemen) often know little about the children with whom they must interact except how attractive they are. These strangers, however, certainly have power over the children.

There is some evidence, however, that, in real life, physically unappealing children are more likely to be battered. Why is this? Does the neglected, battered child become ugly? Or is the child battered because he or she is ugly? Probably both processes operate. Berkowitz and Frodi (1978) comment:

These physical characteristics can obviously result from the treatment their parents give them but once formed they can also heighten the chances that the children will be mistreated again. The foundation is laid when the youngster's appearance is unpleasant to their mothers and fathers. As a result, the parents may develop even more negative feel­ings about their children, and consequently they are more inclined to beat them. If the adults then happen to be angry for some reason, their offsprings' looks might be the extra spark to a violent outburst, espe­cially when the children are misbehaving, (p. 20)

Taken at face value, the preceding studies suggest that, in general, parents and teachers do tend to direct their anger toward unattractive children and that the latter get punished most harshly.

Ugly or Sexy = Sinful in Adulthood

Adults may not get citizenship reports, but their characters are judged by others and these judgments can be influenced by how they look.

Figure 3.5.    Hieronymus Bosch, Ascent to Calvary, c. 1505. Bosch painted in an era that believed a man's face reflected his inner nature. Christ's killers, as hideous as caricatures, are living images of bestiality.

One fascinating study went a step further than the usual studies by finding that beauty is good in some contexts but a distinct disadvantage in others.

Most people have been in situations where another's comments seem difficult to interpret. "I wonder what they meant by that?" you ask. On the one hand, the remark might be very innocent. But then again. ... An experiment was conducted to examine just this situation (Hochberg and Galper 1974). Men and women were asked to look over some "case histories." One history sketched a conversation between a secretary and her boss. The other case was an encounter between a social worker and her client. Each conversation ended with an ambig­uous statement. "What," men and women were asked, "does the secretary or social worker 'really mean' by that [the ambiguous state­ment]?" The participants were also shown a snapshot of the secretary's or social worker's face. Sometimes she had a "highly sexual" (or attractive) face and, at other times, a "socially undesirable" (or unat­tractive) one.

The encounter between the secretary and her boss was reported as follows: The secretary had just been assigned to the company's vice-president—a young, fast-rising, married man. He thanked her for taking dictation, and she asked, "Is there anything else you would like?" The men and women in the experiment were asked what she really meant by this question: (1) that she was available for a more intimate rela-

tionship, (2) that she was flirting but had no intention of following through (3) that she was skilled in all aspects of scretarial services— arranging schedules, devising filing systems, etc., or (4) that she was simply being polite and courteous (Holchberg and Galper 1974, 40).

The men and women's attributions depended on what the secretary looked like. They were less likely to assume her intentions were hon­orable if she had a sexy face. This result demonstrates that attractiveness is not always equated with innocence.

The encounter between the social worker and her client was de­scribed in equally ambiguous terms. The social worker was sent to interview a woman on welfare. The client was suspected of holding a job while receiving welfare payments. The interview makes it clear that the client is guilty of fraud; in fact, she has even acquired a modest set of investments. After outlining the penalties for such fraud, the social worker says to the client (who is in tears): "It doesn't have to be as bad as that. You seem to be an intelligent woman, and I like you. Let's talk about it some more." The experimenters asked, what does she really mean by this comment? (1) That if the client paid back the money she had stolen she may get off with only a reprimand; (2) that there must be some way out of the mess; (3) the social worker was just being kind and reassuring, to stop the client from crying; (4) that the social worker would cover up the fraud if given a sufficient bribe.

The looks of the social worker also had an influence on the attri­butions made about her. It was a more likely assumption that an ugly social worker would accept a bribe rather than an attractive social worker.

Other studies have also found that character judgments of adults are influenced by what the individuals look like and that, in general, "what is ugly is deviant." We have already discussed how more symp­toms of psychopathology are attributed to unattractive people than to attractive people. It has also been found that physically unattractive people are more likely than the attractive to be seen as having epilepsy (Hannson and Duffield 1976), as being politically radical, and as being homosexual (Unger, Hilderbrand, and Mader 1982b).

What about in disciplining adults—do looks matter in this area? Next, we will consider how attractiveness is important in the justice system.


Does appearance influence justice? Clearly, judges and lawyers think so. Albert L. Twesme, chief justice of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Wisconsin, observes:

Figure 3.6.    Charles Hatfield, 1943.

I have spent 34 years as a trial judge in Wisconsin. It has always been my observation that anyone connected with a thief, including the attorneys, almost always does better if he appears in proper clothing and with proper grooming. Attorneys are well aware of this.

In my many years on the trial bench, I have seen many men and women brought into court, charged with an alleged crime. The first time they appear in Court, they have usually just been arrested. Their "Initial Appearance" is very brief. They are merely informed of the charges pending against them and their Constitutional rights. Inasmuch as they have just recently been picked off the street, brought to jail and then to Court, they have had no opportunity to alter their appearance. Many are dirty, disheveled and unkempt.

The next time I see them is at the trial before a jury. When they appear at the trial it is sometimes difficult to recognize them as the same persons! At the trial they are clean, well-groomed and dressed in proper attire. What caused the difference? I would say that the attorneys as well as the clients are fully aware of the importance of appearance, and feel that their appearance is vitally important to the decision mak­ers, whether the decision maker be the jury or judge. I'm sure that if the clients are not aware of this important factor, the attorney is, and will do everything possible to present a favorable appearance for his client as well as for himself.

I recall an extreme case in which the attorney was caught in a situ­ation where his appearance was not exemplary and he lost the case. His mishap impressed upon me very vividly the importance of appearance in the courtroom.

This lawyer had a physique common to many people. He had a very large pot belly. To hold his pants up he wore only a belt which, because of his shape, served its purpose well since it was anchored above the pot belly. In his final argument to the jury he became very emotional and used a great number of gestures. One of his gestures included stretching his arms up straight towards the ceiling directly above him. This caused a disaster! In that fatal move his pot belly dis­appeared and his pants fell to his ankles. He turned away from the jury, bent over and tried to retrieve his pants. In doing so, the back fly of his long winter underwear spread open and his posterior was ex­posed to the jury. But since his pot belly had returned to its normal position, he was unable to unbuckle his belt nor could he pull up his trousers. He then continued to bend over with his hands to his ankles as he waddled out of the courtroom. He did return to the courtroom to finish his argument, but needless to say, all persons present were look­ing at the floor with their hands over their mouths trying to conceal their amusement. He lost the case. The next day the local daily paper published an article about the case on the front page with the headline, "Lawyer loses pants in lawsuit."

At the time this happened there was a very popular TV series on the air entitled, "I've Got a Secret." Although I talked to the lawyer several times, I was never able to convince him to appear on the show!

In the trial of any civil or criminal jury case the judge is required to instruct the jury on the law as it applies to that particular case. Included in those instructions are matters that are to be taken into consideration by the jury. In those sets of instructions there is one instruction that is given in each case. It is called the "Credibility of the Witnesses." The judge very clearly calls the jury's attention to one of several things they can take into consideration in determining "Credibility." It says in part, "In determining the weight and credit you should give to the testimony of each witness, you should consider . . . his appearance on the witness stand. . . ."

It seems apparent that, since this exact instruction is given in each case, our judicial system has long recognized the importance of "appear­ance" in the courtroom, (personal communication)

Lawyers agree that people should dress appropriately for their court appearance, but they disagree about just how to go about it. Each lawyer may give a different piece of advice. Attorney David Schutter says he tries to get his clients to look as if they have tried their best to dress for the courtroom but just do not know how. "I once told a client to borrow a shirt from his brother, who was bigger than him; a jacket from his father who was smaller than him; and to go out and buy a tie that was out of style" (Harada-Stone 1983, B-l).

District Judge Marie Milks advises her clients to dress respectfully and to cover tatoos and other markings that might bring negative associtions to jurors' minds. Attorney F. Lee Bailey (who represented newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst) says he advises all his clients to dress "conservatively, not flashily." (During Patti Hearst's 1976 trial, there was much comment on her transformation from a revolutionary in khaki shirt and baggy pants at the time of her arrest into a woman who wore nail polish and dresses and pantsuits when she appeared in court.)

San Francisco's Melvin Belli, the self-described "King of Torts," represented Erin Felming in the Groucho Marx estate case. He compares going to court with going to church—"you dress up for it." Belli does not allow anyone on his side to wear "wild ties or suits" in court. "If your main witness comes in with jewels and a fancy hairdo, that can swing the balance." Belli tells clients and witnesses not to chew gum and not to wear dark glasses, white shoes, or message T-shirts and sweat shirts (Abrams 1983, B-l)

Although legal professionals vary on the specifics of what to wear and how to wear it, they agree it is important to present a good appearance. They know that appearance does matter in the courtroom. The evidence we will review next clearly shows that judges and jurors are people, like everyone else. When faced with momentous and difficult decisions, they use everything they have. Their decisions are influenced by the appearance of lawyers, of the plaintiffs and defendants, and of the witnesses.

The Defendant Puts in an Appearance

People believe physical attractiveness should not be important in the courtroom (Efran 1974). They argue that only the defendant's previous history and character should influence the jury's decision. Yet, there is

Figure 3.7.    Wanted by the FBI.

clear evidence that most people are unable to put their prejudices aside and to act on their convictions.


Actually, there are several steps in the justice process from the com­mission of a crime until a case is tried. At each of these points, authorities have to make choices. The choices they make have an enormous impact on the adversaries' lives. Most cases start simply enough. Imagine, for example, a police car cruising along a dimly lit street at 3:00 a.m. Out of the corner of her eye, the patrolwoman spots a fight. She is a little nervous, a little excited. It has been a long night. She and her patrol partner jump out of the scout car and run over to break up the fight. The choices they make, from this point on, will determine what happens to the brawlers. The first decisions the police will have to make are:

IHh  UGLY:  MAD OR  BAD?           §7

Who started things? Who should be taken into the station? What are they guilty of? Was this just a "friendly scuffle" or assault and battery?

Once charges are filed against the brawlers, more choices remain. The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. The lawyers' predictions about how well they can do in court will affect the sort of plea-bargaining in which they are willing to engage. If the case does go to court, more choices remain. The jurors have to decide whether or not the defendant is guilty and, if so, what his or her sentence should be. It is easy to see how the defendant's looks might be important at every step of such a justice process.

Criminologists have collected evidence showing that if defendants are good-looking people:

1.   they are less likely to get caught at illicit activities;

2.   if caught, they are less likely to be reported;

3.   even if the case does come to court, judges and jurors are more likely to be lenient with them.

Let's review all this evidence:


In one daring study (Mace 1972), psychologists persuaded 440 young men and women to shoplift items from ten large stores in a major city. Clerks were less likely to spot shoplifters who were well-groomed and neatly dressed than to catch those with long, stringy hair and sloppily groomed. Presumably, clerks are less likely to suspect good-looking customers of shoplifting and are thus less likely to be watching their every move.

Clerks are not the only ones that notice shoplifters. Customers also notice strange behavior in those around them. It has been found that customers are more likely to report bogus shoplifters if the lawbreakers have an unappealing appearance rather than an appealing one (Stef-fensmeier and Terry 1973). In two different chain grocery stores and in a discount department store, an accomplice blatantly shoplifted in the presence of customers. The man or woman shoplifter dressed either in a "straight" style or in a "hippie" style. The straight shoplifter looked like a typical professional out on a shopping break. A "hippie" shoplifter was described in the following way: "He wore soiled patched blue jeans, blue workman's shirt, and blue denim jacket; well-worn, scuffed shoes with no socks. He had long and unruly hair with a ribbon tied around his forehead. He was unshaven and had a small beard" (p. 442).

Hippie shoplifters were not only more likely to be reported, but they were reported with more enthusiasm. For example, one customer said, "That son-of-a-bitch hippie over there stuffed a banana down his coat." (Incidentally, men and women were equally likely to be reported for shoplifting.) Apparently, if you are going to be a thief, you would do well to be neatly dressed.


Why are people eager to report to authorities the illicit behavior of homely people and so reluctant to turn in attractive people? One study, which explored how people felt about the plight of attractive versus unattractive shoplifters, helps us understand why.

In this experiment (Deseran and Chung 1979), men and women were asked to act as store detectives. The researchers claimed to be investigating the process by which the detectives, who monitor the television cameras in department stores, make their decisions on whether various "suspicious actions" of shoppers are "reportable."

The men and women were asked to view a scene on videotape and to pay close attention because questions would be asked later. The "detectives" observed a woman browsing in a bookstore. After thumbing through a few books, she stuck one of the books into her handbag, sauntered past the cashier, and went out the door. In one version, the woman looked like a "hippie"—her hair was frizzy, she was not wearing makeup, and she wore a sweater with no bra, a long denim skirt, and sandals. In another version, the same woman was "straight" in ap­pearance—her hair was neatly styled, she wore makeup, and she had on a conservative blouse, skirt, and shoes.

The "detectives" were asked how upset the woman would probably be if she were caught, tried, and convicted of shoplifting. Observers took it for granted the "straight" woman would suffer most if she were convicted of shoplifting. For example, they assumed she would be more emotionally upset and more concerned about what her family and friends would think of her than would be the "hippie" woman. Ob­servers, then, may be more hesitant to turn in conventional-appearing people (who look "just like them") than people who are unattractive and seem very different from themselves.

This bevy of experiments suggests that bias in favor of the attractive occurs long before a case ever gets to the courtroom. Overall, the evidence indicates:

Attractive people, especially if they are neatly dressed in the conven­tional manner, are less likely to be caught committing a crime. (Since they are less likely to be suspected, their actions are not as carefully

scrutinized, and their crimes go relatively undetected.) Even if they are caught, attractive people are less likely to be reported. (In part, this may be because people who observe them like them. In part, it is because people care more about what happens to them; they emphasize how personally devastating it would be for them to be convicted of a crime.)


"Gentlemen of the jury," said the Defense Attorney, now beginning to warm to his summation, "the real question here before you is, shall this beautiful, young woman be forced to languish away her loveliest years in a dark prison cell? Or shall she be set free to return to her cozy little apartment at 4134 Seaside Street—there to spend her lonely, loveless hours in her boudoir, lying beside her little Princess phone, 312-6642?" (Playboy's Complete Book of Party Jokes 1972, 148)

For ethical reasons, legal scholars are prohibited from observing, much less conducting, experiments with real jurors who are deliberating real cases. They can, however, do the next best thing. They can study the reactions of jurors and lay people to transcripts or videotapes of court cases. Such simulated jury studies clarify that the defendants' looks are critically important in determining whether or not they are found guilty and, if so, how severe a sentence they receive.

In one early study (Efran 1974), students were asked to make judgments about other students who were accused of cheating. If cheaters were good-looking, they were less likely to be found guilty and were given less severe punishments. Good looks have also been found to be important in other studies, at least under certain conditions (Leventhal and Krate 1977; Sigall and Ostrove 1975; Solomon and Schopler 1978; Steward 1980; Storck and Sigall 1979).

Most of the studies that examine the importance of looks in the courtroom have studied the impact on sentencing of extraordinarily good looks versus ugliness. What if defendants are "average" in ap­pearance? Will they get lenient sentences like good-looking defendants, severe sentences like homely ones, or somewhere in between? Most researchers have assumed a so-so defendant would fall somewhere in between. They are probably right, but one pioneering study suggests "it ain't necessarily so."

Solomon and Schopler (1978) were curious about the fate of people with average looks. The researchers speculated that average-looking defendants may actually receive harsher sentences than either strikingly good-looking or ugly defendants. When jury members are asked to make a decision, they use everything they have to come to the right decision. Any information deviant from the normal may be given greater weight. Unusually attractive defendants might be judged most leniently

on the assumption that "what is beautiful is good." Homely defendants, on the other hand, may also be judged somewhat leniently out of pity. An average-looking defendant, however, does not get the benefit of the doubt for either reason; thus, he or she may get the harshest sentence.

In a study designed to test this idea (Solomon and Schopler 1978), men at the University of North Carolina evaluated a case of a young woman accused of embezzling $10,000. The woman was either attrac­tive, average-looking, or unattractive. As might be expected, the at­tractive woman received the most lenient sentence. On the average, the men suggested a sentence of about 12 months. They were much harsher with unattractive women—they gave her an average prison sentence of I8V2 months. The average-looking woman, however, re­ceived the harshest sentence of all. The men wanted to lock her up for 19V2 months!


While clear that, generally, an attractive defendant has a real advantage, there are, naturally, some exceptions. Sometimes, appearance does not seem to matter one way or the other. In rare instances, good looks seem actually to act against a defendant as shown in the following three cases.

1.  Whether the appearance of defendants works for or against them seems to depend on the type of crime they have committed. When the crime (say burglary) could be committed by anyone (as is usually the case), good-looking or not good-looking, attractive defendants get the usual advantages. They are unlikely to be found guilty, but even if they are, they get less severe sentences than others. If it seems the defendants used their good looks to prey on others, however (i.e., "con artists" who use their charisma to swindle others), evidently that is the last straw. Bogus jurors hold the swindlers' good looks against them; this time it is the attractive defendant who receives harsher treatment.

For example, in one study (Sigall and Ostrove 1975), if the defendant committed a regular burglary—breaking into a neighbor's apartment and stealing $2,200—an attractive woman was judged more leniently than an unattractive woman. However, when the defendant "ingratiated herself to a middle-aged bachelor and induced him to invest $2,200 in a nonexistent corporation," the beautiful woman was assigned an un­usually long prison sentence. The homely swindler did better.

2.  Another study found other limits to our "love affair" with good-looking people. People will give the attractive the benefit of the doubt under normal conditions. But if the crime gets too serious, the good-looking lose their advantage (Piehl 1977). Mock jurors were asked to

review a case involving a traffic accident and to sentence the offender to a term of imprisonment fitting the seriousness of the crime. "Jurors" read one of three different versions of the case, each describing different consequences. When the consequence was trivial, a good-looking woman offender was given a lighter sentence. However, when the offense was serious (she killed an innocent motorist), the attractive woman "had the book thrown at her." (For other research indicating that jurors sometimes lean over backwards to avoid being biased—ending up being biased in favor of homely defendants, see Friend and Vinson [1974].) 3. Finally, other studies suggest that individual biases may be tem­pered somewhat by the jury process. In one study (Izzet and Leginski 1974), men and women were asked their first impressions of a defendant in a negligent automobile homicide case. At first, men and women expressed the usual biases in favor of attractive defendants. They felt attractive defendants deserved a less severe sentence than others. Then, however, jurors were asked to state their recommended sentence, to list their reasons for deciding on that sentence, and then to deliberate with other members of the "jury." All this talk had its effect. In the end, the attractiveness effect disappeared! Regardless of how attractive the defendant was, in the end it was the facts of the matter that counted: all the defendants got the same sentence. Another study (Baumeister and Darley 1982) demonstrated that when more factual information is added to the case, biases in favor of attractive defendants also decline. This research suggests that, as simulated jury studies come closer to replicating actual courtroom settings, we find that jurors are less swayed by defendants' looks than has been assumed.


We have found that good-looking defendants have several advantages.

1.   They are less likely to be caught.

2.   If caught, they are less likely to be reported.

3.   If their case comes to court, judges and jurors are more likely to be lenient.

The research, then, suggests that people ought to appear at their best in court. Probably, dressing appropriately is all one can do. Some books suggest people can do more—that one can Dress for Courtroom Success. They explain how the underworld Mafia figure can, with the right tailor, turn into a Walter Mitty; how the arrogant showgirl can appear to be a simple housewife. Such transformations are probably not pos­sible. We communicate our personalities in a thousand different ways.

Even when we try to fool others via dress and demeanor, our person­alities tend to shine right through (Mossis 1981).

Paul Mullin Ganley, a prominent Honolulu trial lawyer, describes one such case of "show and tell."

A while back I had my arm twisted by a judge and reluctantly under­took the representation of a young cocktail waitress fighting to regain custody of her child from the State. As it turned out, she was a warm, loving mother—but she certainly didn't look the part. I coached her on how she should try to appear in court, but she kept missing the point. Each outfit she wore to my office for my perusal appeared to be sleazier than the last. I was greatly relieved when I met her at court on the day she was to take the witness stand; she had gotten the idea—she really looked nice and sweet. She had on a cardigan sweater, tailored slacks, appropriate heels and not too much makeup. As she sat in the witness chair awaiting the judge to enter to reconvene the trial, I noticed she had buttoned her sweater only part way up. Thinking it looked a little bit untidy, I advised her to "button it all the way up ... or take it off." I then walked to the back of the courtroom and stepped into the hall to encourage waiting witnesses to be patient. When I returned to the courtroom, I was stunned. She had removed her sweater to expose her long-sleeved T-shirt, which was fine except that the front of the T-shirt had colored pictures of two large fried eggs at strategic feminine points. To make things far worse, the yolks were transparent. I literally ran toward the witness stand, repeating in my stage whisper that she should "put on the sweater!" But just then the judge came out of his chambers, everyone rose, he took one look and with a disapproving judicial eye said, "Too late, Mr. Ganley, too late."

Too often, our real personalities shine through.

The Victim

Thus far, we have focused on the role the defendant's appearance plays in the courtroom. What about the plaintiff's appearance? Presumably, victims are not on trial. But researchers have found the victim's at­tractiveness can play a critical role in decisions reached in the courtroom. Criminologists have been intrigued with finding out the role of both the defendant's and the victim's attractiveness in rape trials. In such cases, it is easy to see how the jurors, in their attempt to piece together what happened and why, might be influenced by both the defendant's and the victim's appearance. Most criminologists are convinced rape is a crime of violence (Amir 1971). Many feminist writers agree (Brown-miller 1975). In approximately 70 percent of all rape reports, the offender threatens force against the victim. Occasionally, physical force is used.

This statement by a rape victim from a police report illustrates such a case:

He hit me in the face and knocked me on the floor. He pulled off my robe and nightgown and I screamed and he threatened to kill me. He stuffed the nightgown in my mouth and tied the rest around my throat and the gown strangled me. He tied my hands behind my back and he pressed my neck so hard I passed out. Then he asked me if I needed air and I nodded and he let it loose a bit but still kept it in my mouth. He tied my legs up to the tie on my hands .  . . then he got my butcher knife from the kitchen and ran the point all over my body. (Chappell and James 1978, 59)

The public, however, still tends to assume rape is a crime of passion. In judging such "crimes of passion," the parties' appearance may affect the attributions jurors make about the crime.


Most rapists have a clear idea of the kind of woman they look for. Schram observes that when offenders were asked to describe their victim preferences in detail, the picture that emerged was of the "all American woman"—a nice, friendly, young, pretty, white housewife or college student. These same offenders were asked to indicate what would be an undesirable victim. Leading the list were children and women who were crippled, dirty, sick, pregnant, retarded, fat, middle-aged, or prostitutes (see Chappel and James 1978, 8-9).

Thus, in a trial, the credibility of the rapists' claim of innocence may depend on the looks of his victim. If she is stunningly beautiful, the jury may wonder "How could he resist?" and they may doubt his denials. If the victim is ugly, however, they may doubt her claims. One social worker we interviewed complained bitterly about a rape case she had handled. A retarded woman was brutally beaten and raped. The woman was big and awkward. She mumbled; she drooled. Everyone who knew the rapist was convinced he was guilty. He was a violent man. He had beaten and raped women before. But the jury could not believe in the crime. "Why would he want to rape her?" one juror asked. Thus, we might suspect defendants are more likely to be assumed guilty if their victims are beautiful. In one study (Thornton 1977), researchers found that "jurors" believed both a stunning woman's and a homely woman's account of being raped, but they gave the assailant a longer prison sentence when he raped an attractive woman. (Perhaps they felt he had done greater harm, somehow!)

The credibility of the accused rapist's claim to innocence may also depend, of course, on what he looks like. In one study (Jacobson 1981),

men and women read a case description like the following (Jacobsen's description was adopted from Jones and Aronsen, 1973).

It was ten o'clock at night and Judy W. was getting out of an evening class at a large Midwestern university. She walked across the campus toward her car, which was parked two blocks off campus. A man was walking across the campus in the same direction as Judy W. and began to follow her.

Less than a block from Judy W.'s car, the man accosted her. In the ensuing struggle, he stripped her and raped her. A passerby heard her screams and called the police. They arrived at the scene within minutes.

Judy W. told the police that she had never seen her attacker before that night. Based on her description, the police arrested Charles E., a student whom they found in the vicinity of the attack. Judy W. positively identified Charles E. as the man who raped her. Charles E. swears that he is innocent. He testified that he was just taking a break from studying by going out for a walk and that it was just a coincidence that he was in the vicinity and that it was a coincidence that he matched Judy W.'s description of her attacker, (p. 251)

The defendant's appearance turned out to be tremendously impor­tant in determining whether or not judges "let him off the hook." If Charles E. was handsome, men and women were likely to think he was just out for a walk and that his resemblance to the rapist was coincidental. Not so, if Charles E. was homely. Then he was likely to be seen as guilty. Judges were also asked how long a prison sentence they would recommend for Charles E. if he were found guilty. If these judges had their druthers, the handsome defendant would have to spend about ten years in prison, while the homely defendant would be locked up for almost fourteen years.

Judy W.'s attractiveness also had some effect. In accordance with previous research, judges were more likely to assume Charles E. was guilty when Judy W. was ravishing. They were also less sympathetic to a rapist of an attractive woman than to a rapist of an unattractive woman. (Deitz and Byrnes [1981] also found that an unattractive rapist is more likely to be considered guilty than an attractive rapist).


Unfortunately, sometimes we never learn much about the rapist. It has been estimated that as few as 3 percent of rapists are actually convicted for the crime (Gage and Schurr 1976). Often rapists are not convicted because they are not caught in the first place, or, if caught, they never make it to the courtroom.

Even though the rape case may never make it to trial, people hearing about the case still form opinions about it. In these cases,

however, things work a little differently. Here only the physical at­tractiveness of the victim can have an influence. The rapist remains faceless. Some evidence does indicate that the physical attractiveness of the victim matters. For example, in one study (Seligman, Brickman, and Koulack 1977), researchers told men and women they were inter­ested in people's reactions to local crimes. They asked the individuals to look at a wire service photo and a news story about an incident that happened to a twenty-seven-year-old nurse. The newspaper articled described the following incident: As the nurse was returning home from the hospital about 12:30 a.m., she was followed by a man who pulled her into an alley and—depending on the version of the story the subject received—either (1) hit and kicked her, (2) took her purse, or (3) raped her. Her attacker fled by climbing a fence and had not yet been appre­hended. The photograph in the newspaper article pictured either an attractive or a homely nurse.

Did mock "jurors" see any relationship between the nurse's at­tractiveness and the crimes that occurred? If the woman was attractive, both men and women thought she was unusually likely to be a rape victim. Jurors were asked if the nurse "might somehow have provoked the man into treating her as he did." It is obvious to people why the rapist might attack the beautiful woman—her mere existence is enough to explain the rape. It is not so obvious why he would want to rape the ugly nurse. In the rape case, jurors tended to assume the unattractive nurse must have behaved provocatively, that she must have "asked for it." For the mugging and the robbery, on the other hand, attractive and unattractive women were perceived as equally likely to be victims and also equally likely to provoke (or not to provoke) the incident. (A study by Tieger [1981] secured much the same results.)

Rape is not the only crime in which the victim's attractiveness matters. One study found that defendants were most likely to be convicted when their victims were portrayed by the attorney as both "beautiful and blameless." In this study, the crime was automobile theft (Kerr 1978).

Summing Up for the Defense

These studies indicate that, in general, the handsome and the beautiful have a friend in court. Good-looking defendants are less likely to be found guilty, and, even if convicted, they are more likely to receive lenient sentences. Good-looking victims are better able to make their cases stick. In the last section of this chapter, we will see how looks affect our willingness or reluctance to help others.


Who is more likely to receive assistance—a good-looking person or an ugly one? From reading this book, you would probably respond, "The attractive person, of course." And you would be right—most Good Samaritans have an eye out for good-looking Pharisees.

What about when you need "to get by with a little help from a friend?" To whom are you most likely to turn? If, out of habit, you

answer, "A good-looking friend," think again. This time you may well be wrong. For most people, the friend to turn to when in need is a homely friend. Here is the evidence to support these contentions.

Who Gets Help?

In fairy tales, the damsel in distress is inevitably beautiful. It's lucky that she is. A number of experiments document that a beautiful damsel is more likely to get help than an ugly crone; and, if by chance he should ever be in need of aid, the ruggedly handsome knight will more likely receive help than his homelier peers.

Imagine yourself in the following situation: You walk into a phone booth and find a dime lying on the shelf below the phone. It is not much, but you are secretly pleased about your find. It saves you from having to dig out your own dime. As you are leaving the booth, either a lovely woman or plain one approaches you and says, "Excuse me, I think I might have left a dime in this booth, did you find it?" What would you say? Would it matter if the woman was homely versus attractive? Most individuals are more likely to return the money if the woman is good-looking. In one study (Sroufe, Chaikin, Cook, and Freeman 1977) that staged this situation, 87 percent of men and women returned the dime to an attractive woman, while only 64 percent returned the dime to the same woman dressed up to be homely.

Similarly, men are more willing to go to the trouble of doing trivial favors, such as mailing letters or giving directions, for attractive women than for unattractive women (Wilson 1978), especially if she begins her request by introducing herself (Harrell 1978). A cynic might insinuate that men are willing to help beautiful damsels in distress because, if she were to utter, "How can I possibly repay you?" they could easily come up with an answer. Perhaps, but that is not the whole story. Researchers find that people are simply more likely to help beautiful women (and men), even if the aided persons will never know who helped them.

In one experiment, when men and women walked into a telephone booth at the Detroit airport, they found an application form clipped to a stamped envelope. A note was attached to it: "Dear Dad. Have a nice trip. Please remember to mail this application before you leave Detroit on your flight to New York." It was signed either "Love, Linda" or "Love, Bob." Obviously, "Dad" had forgotten.

The envelope was addressed to the psychology department at a local university. The application contained the name of either Linda or Robert Smith and other standardized information: home address, ed­ucational background, professional references, grade point average, and

Graduate Record Examination scores. Attached to the application was the ubiquitious picture of a good-looking or of a homely man or woman.

Did the harried callers take the time to mail the application? They probably realized that, if they did not, the applicant would lose his/ her chance to go to graduate school, but what a bother. They had to seal it all up and find a mailbox—and they were busy. It was found that men and women were more likely to take the time to mail the application if the applicant was good-looking than if he or she was ugly (Benson, Karabenick, and Lerner 1976). (Knowing what we do about the importance of beauty, it is perhaps fortunate the "Good Samaritans" didn't steal the ugly applicants' application fees). The favors were done even though "Linda" or "Bob" or "Dad" would never be around to ask, "How can I repay you?"

Perhaps it's understandable that when we're just talking about returning dimes, giving directions and mailing letters, favoritism will influence our willingness to proffer aid. But some researchers have speculated that, when the chips are really down, beauty does count for less. Emergencies require immediate and impulsive action. Often there is not much time to even notice what the damsel in distress looks like. Or is there? Well, even if the Good Samaritans could notice, some have speculated that, in an emergency, almost everybody who needs help will get it, regardless of their looks. But do they?

Researchers have conceived of some ingenious experiments to test these ideas. To everyone's surprise, researchers find that, even in an emergency when time is short and things are critical, beauty still counts. For example, when speeding down a highway, a driver catches a glimpse of a woman stranded beside a car with a flat tire. The driver has enough time to assess her looks before deciding whether or not to stop to help. Apparently, in this situation attractive women are more likely to get their tires changed than homely women (Athanasiou and Greene 1973).

Another example: If men are approached on the street by a woman with her arm swathed in a blood-soaked bandage and she asks for money to get a tetanus shot (she was bitten by a rat while conducting an experiment), they are more likely to donate money to her if she is beautiful (West and Brown 1975). In this study, it was also found that if the emergency did not seem to be so severe (there was no blood-soaked bandage), there were no differences in the donations to an attractive versus an unattractive woman. This study suggests that, when the chips are down, beauty might count for even more, not less.

(As these stories of "damsels in distress" get increasingly bizarre, you may wonder: "What's next?" We'll stop here.)

Why are people so extraordinarily willing to help good-looking people? Edmund Burke observed in the eighteenth century that "beauty

in distress is much the most affecting beauty" (Burke 1909). Several explanations for these experimental results have been offered:

1)  Possibly good-looking people are simply better liked at first sight than ugly ones. Scientists have found that most people are eager to help those they love, willing to help those they like, and reluctant to do anything for those they dislike. In fact, most people seem to take genuine pleasure in the sufferings of their enemies (Rubin 1973; Bramel et al. 1968). One reason people are so willing to help good-looking people, then, is that they like them.

2)  A second reason people may run to aid the good-looking is that when the latter express their gratitude it can be unusually rewarding. (Especially if they add: "What can I ever do to repay you?")

3)  In almost all the preceding experiments, the knight in shining armor was a man, and the damsel in distress was a woman. That scenario is consistent with traditional sex role stereotypes. If beautiful women are seen as more feminine (as they seem to be), they may also appear to be more helpless (Bar-Tal and Saxe 1976b). Thus, it may not be surprising that attractive women get more help. Consistent with this argument is the finding that men are more likely to help women in dresses than women wearing more masculine-looking clothes (Harris and Bays 1973).

Beautiful women, then, are seen as feminine and needy. Ugly women are perceived as able to take care of themselves. In fact, of course, the reverse is probably true. It is the ugly—the old, the sick, the poor— who are generally most in need of help, but least likely to get it. One woman from THE GROUP observed:

I always thought that I wouldn't mind being a woman so much, if I could be a beautiful woman. When there's a debate about the ERA or something, my men friends talk about all the advantages women have. What they really mean is beautiful women. I wouldn't mind the fact that it's a man's world, if I had someone to open doors for me, carry my packages, and so forth, but I don't. I can remember when I was hiking around Lassen with some male chums. When we came to a diffi­cult part in the trail, all the men stopped, cleaned out their pockets, and handed me all this junk, asking if I'd put it in my pack so they wouldn't be "unbalanced" during the climb. There I was, trying to scramble up the rocks with this big pack, swinging wildly from side to side. When you're an ugly woman, you don't get tender attention—you get all the dirty jobs, because you're inferior. You're expected to clip the hedges, shovel the sidewalk, take the car in for servicing. Your time doesn't count for anything.

In contrast, here is the self-disclosure made by a very attractive, professional woman: "I can manipulate people because of what I look like. I can get advantages—people pay a little more attention—they

are just a little more willing when I ask for something. I'm aware of this and probably use it."

The evidence suggests the above women are right. Good Samaritans are most likely to help good-looking Pharisees and tend to leave ugly ones lying by the side of the road. But what about people who are paid and expected to provide help—doctors, nurses, policemen, social workers? Do they discriminate on the basis of the looks of their patients or clients? Maybe. Maybe not. We have already devoted a whole section to how therapists can be influenced by the attractiveness of their clients, but such biases may not occur in other helping professions—or, at least, not on the surface.

We would think, for example, that medical professionals are above being influenced by the physical attractiveness of their patients. In one study, 108 first- and second-year medical students in a southern United States medical school were presented with photographic identification cards and hypothetical reports of illness for eight students. The illnesses included mononucleosis, bronchitis, a migraine headache, a re-injury of a recurrent knee problem, lryngitis, acne, a cold sore, and a common cold. The medical students were asked to imagine they only had one hour on a busy Saturday morning at a college health center and that all eight students had been waiting anxiously since 10:00 a.m. Their task was to review the medical reports and rank the students in the order they would see them. (The researchers had arranged it so that the illnesses and the photographs were paired in different ways.) At­tractive patients were not put at the head of the line. These future medical professionals were influenced only by the severity of the illness and not by the patients' attractiveness (Silvestro 1982).

So far, we have focused on only one side of the coin—how Good Samaritans respond to good-looking versus ugly Pharisees. What about the other side of the coin? Who do the Pharisees—in desperate need of help—ask to come to their aid?

Who Is Asked to Give Help?

"Them who's got" may get, but the evidence suggests that "them who's got" are not likely to be asked to give. A wide array of experiments document this contention. In the typical experiment, researchers bring people into a university setting and assign them to tasks far beyond their abilities. Workers may be missing certain parts or information they need to complete a project. Will they ask for assistance?

In such a situation, everyone has mixed feelings about asking for help. On the one hand, it becomes increasingly obvious that one is a fool not to ask for help. Time is running out, and there is no chance of getting anywhere without aid. On the other hand, no one likes to

ask for help. It lowers our self-esteem and is acutely embarrassing (Homans 1974; Joffe 1953). It leaves us feeling vaguely in debt (Dillon 1968; Gross, Piliavin, Wallston, and Broil 1972; Hatfield, Walster, and Piliavin 1978).

It may be difficult, at best, for people to ask for help, but for most people, it is next to impossible to admit they need help from a strikingly good-looking person. They may be too much in awe of the attractive person's presumed intelligence and competence. They also want to be liked and they certainly do not want to inconvenience someone so good-looking. They care too much about what the person thinks of them to risk asking for help. So, in general, it is difficult for people to ask help of attractive people.

However, some things do reduce people's reluctance to seek help from others, attractive or otherwise. Anything that makes it legitimate to ask for help, helps. In fact, when it is legitimate to ask for help, we might even expect a bias in the opposite direction. When asking for help is legitimate, people might be especially prone to seek out the attractive.

For instance, it is "legitimate" to ask for help from someone supposed to provide us with help. Doctors, counselors, clergymen, teachers, and experimenters are there to help us out. Under such circumstances, the potential Good Samaritan's looks should have very little bearing on whether or not they are sought out for help. If we ask our dashing professor to help us with a paper, he might end up asking us out for coffee. If we ask the blonde stewardess if the flight is on time, she might stick around for a drink.

We can envision a second type of circumstance that makes it "legitimate" to ask for help. We may be so extraordinarily busy solving some difficult and important task (that only we can solve) that we do not mind asking for a little assistance—someone to make us a sandwich, sharpen our pencils, or turn down the nuclear reactor. In such situations, our self-esteem should not be affected by asking for help.

There is considerable evidence that the above logic is sound. For example, Stokes and Bickman (1974) found that it did not matter what a woman experimenter looked like if she was in a helping role. In those circumstances, women were quite comfortable asking the exper­imenter, beautiful or not, for assistance on an impossible task. However, if the same woman was introduced as just another student, hence, not an authority, women were less willing to approach a beautiful woman than a plain one.

In another experiment conducted at the Tel-Aviv University in Israel (Nadler 1980), it was found that women's willingness to approach an attractive woman for help was tempered by whether or not they expected to subsequently have a face-to-face meeting with her. The women were

assigned the jobs of figuring out the meanings of certain rare Hebrew words. They were provided with the opportunity to consult with a partner on any words they did not know. Yet, the women were reluctant to do so. It was bad enough if the potential helper was an average-looking woman. It was more difficult if she was beautiful, and nearly impossible if she was beautiful and the women knew they would have to interact with her later. Apparently, the women were unwilling to expose their inadequacies to an attractive other if they expected to have to confront the person later.

Although people are concerned about exposing their weaknesses to those people they value (attractive people), there are sometimes special reasons to ask help of an attractive person of the opposite sex. Men in laundromats ask beautiful women their advice about detergents. Women attending football games ask questions of attractive men sitting next to them. In each case, the ploy is the same—to make the ac­quaintance of someone they want very much to see again.

In fact, a recent study demonstrates that at least women use just such ploys. In this study, Nadler, Shapira, and Ben-Itzhak (1982) ob­served potential Good Samaritans' responses to both men and women "Pharisees" (who were either unusually attractive or homely). Men and women listened to a detective story and then were asked to solve the mystery by answering sixteen questions about the story. The questions concerned the detail provided in the story and included inquiries such as, "What was the color of Helga's skirt when she met Heinrick at the bar?" It was arranged so that some of the questions were unanswerable, given the information provided in the story. Since the amateur detectives did not have enough information to answer the questions, they were allowed to ask help from their partners on as many questions as they wanted.

As in previous studies, men and women were extremely reluctant to ask good-looking members of the same sex for help. When the partner was of the opposite sex, men were still more reluctant to ask help if she was attractive. The men seemed reluctant to admit to a beautiful woman that they needed any help. Women, on the other hand, were eager to ask handsome men to come to their aid. The women in the study asked for more help from an opposite sex partner if he was attractive than if he was unattractive. (And it is likely they had more in mind than just finding out the color of Helga's skirt.) As the authors suggested, women were probably just as concerned as men were with presenting a favorable self-image. However, displaying de-

pendency on the opposite sex is a part of the feminine sex role, not a part of the masculine sex role.

Summary: Apparently, good-looking people are most likely to get a "little help from their friends" and least likely to be asked to give help.

Figure 4.1.    Thomas and Mary Carey Kalahar, 1910.

Chapter 4

Romantic Beginnings

Recently, Nutshell magazine investigated the fantasies and realities of college romance. Following are two views—first from a man's per­spective, then from a woman's:

That's the way all of us are. Even the shy, sweet ones. Like every­one else, we college men are products of our environment. . . . We're warped by the media. We're conditioned by Charlie's Angels, by Playboy Advisor and Penthouse Forum and the Sports Illustrated bathing suit is­sue, by all those impossibly smooth airbrushes centerfolds, by rock 'n' roll lyrics and TV ads. We've got all that glamour coming at us, but we've also got a completely separate thing going with the Girl Next Door, who's healthy and wholesome and fun. We batter, bash, tug, and heave, but we can't quite seem to reconcile the two.

. . . Mitchell, who's a little more cynical than most, says right away that the only thing college men want is to sleep with beautiful college women. .  . . That is the way it is. Everybody has his own pri­vate rating system—not just 8's and 10's, but for some guys a real ob-


session. That's what college teaches us: how to gather and correlate data. Dan blames his attitude on a course he took during his sophomore year, "Game-Playing and Decision-Making"; now he assigns attractive women coefficients and plots out probabilities like a technician in the Pentagon war room. . .  . An accounting student I once knew used a sliding scale based on 100. "I'd be happy," he would tell me, "with an 80." Sure— who wouldn't be? (Luke Whisnant, a graduate student at Washington University, Schwartzbaum & Whisnant, 1982, 44)

I thought college men would be tall and wear flannel shirts. I thought they'd play Frisbee and quote Hesse; I thought they'd be good kissers and drink wine. Some of them, I fancied, might smoke pipes. One of them, I dreamed, might win my heart.

But as I searched, they seemed to grow shorter, t-shirt season ended only when the ski parkas came out. Frisbee was played with their dogs; pipes were more often of the water variety, and kissing was passe. The vogue, they would have had me believe, was to go directly from vertical activities (such as first-time introductions) to horizontal ac­tivities (such as could easily be accomplished in our co-ed dorms).

. .  . Why should I have thought college men would miraculously be older, cuter, and more sophisticated than the guys who had finished high school with me just two months before?

Why? Because hope springs eternal. Because I was on my own, away from home for the first time, with a new Indian-print bedspread, a high school graduation gift—stereo, my own checking account, and a stack of fat college-issue fashion magazines filled with hundreds of ex­amples of what to wear on campus to attract tall, cute, flannel-shirted, pipe-smoking, wine-drinking, sophisticated, good-kissing men (Hesse quotations optional).

Getting those hopes dashed did not take long. A week of orienta­tion, a few into-the-night blab sessions with my suitemates, a disastrous mixer or two, a few close encounters of the nerd kind, and the dazzling truth began to seep in: These guys were human. Just like us, but shorter. (Lisa Schwarzbaum a freelance writer In Schwartzbaum & Whis­nant, 1982 p. 42)

Men want to date ravishing women. Women want their dates to be handsome as well as competent and TALL. But dreams are not the same as reality. The interplay between fantasy and reality will be the theme of this chapter.

Before we discuss how physical attractiveness operates in both the fantasy and reality of the dating marketplace, let's begin at the beginning. Just how many people are out their bargaining in the marketplace, and who are they?


Remember "Old Maid"? Whoever got stuck with the homely old crone was clearly the loser. This card game symbolizes the stigma once attached to being single, particularly if one was a woman. Single women, "old maids," or "spinsters," were assumed to have no choice in the matter—they were single because no one found them attractive enough to marry. Single men were "bachelors"; it was assumed they chose to remain single because they loved an exciting life.

Today, it is more acceptable to remain single—even for women. In fact, in 1978 about 48 million adult Americans (about one-third the adult population) were single. Here are some other facts:

•  Most college students are single.

•  More than one-half of Americans aged 18 to 39 are single.

•  At any age, there are more single women than single men. This gap increases with age. For people in their forties, there are 233 unattached (never married, divorced, widowed) women for every 100 men. (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983; Francaeur 1982).

Today, many people are choosing to remain single for a longer period (or all) of their adulthood. There are several reasons why they are choosing not to marry. Many women find this choice gives them greater freedom to pursue a career. Other individuals have developed negative attitudes about marriage, perhaps from growing up in a broken home. Some develop such negative attitudes about attachment to one person that they choose to be "creatively single." Roger Libby (1977) defines a "creatively single" person as one who chooses not to be dependent on any one person—emotionally, financially, or sexually.

Other people, however, are reluctantly alone. Rather than choosing not to select, they are not selected. These people may have problems being selected because of unattractiveness or lack of social skills. The emptiness and despair of such singles is portrayed in the following comment by a young, single man:

I have cried over my general inability to meet women—once even in my car in the parking lot of a disco in L.A. after having an ex­tremely difficult time conversing with a number of girls who I was really attracted to (which is rare). I have been intrigued with the subject of suicide and realize that it is the most effective way to cure one's depression. . . . My depressions always center around my inability to meet women. Period. I really envy guys who have the "gift of gab" and who can just walk up to strange women and start a conversation. If I

had that ability, it would solve all my problems, I'm convinced of it. (Hite 1981, 255-256)

Although many single people are involved in romantic relationships, many are not. There are many adults truly unattached. Although they may not always stay home on Saturday night, there really is no special person in their lives. They are the Availables.

If you are one of these "Availables," this chapter is written par­ticularly for you. Those already intimately involved with someone will find their concerns discussed in chapter 5—"More Intimate Affairs." Those more interested in sex than romance and love get their turn in chapter 6—"Let's Get Physical." However, we would recommend that, to get the big picture of love and romance, you read all three chapters.


Imagine that a friend has given you a six-month membership to a video dating service. Such services have been springing up all around the country. They go by names such as "Great Expectations," "Couple Company," and "People Resources" (Kellogg 1982). During your ori­entation meeting, the service asks you to submit a small snapshot and a handwritten autobiography. The second step, which may seem a little more intimidating, is to make an appointment for an interview that will be videotaped. You will sit down face-to-face with the interviewer and answer a series of questions—ranging from your views on politics to your views on relationships. Your interview then becomes part of a film library, available for viewing by other members.

Your membership also allows you to browse through the pictures, autobiographies, and videotapes of the other members. Any time you have some free time, you can drop in to the video dating center, and leaf through a large catalogue, which contains the other members' photographs and biographical material. From all those faces and stories, you pick out the very few whose videotapes you want to view. From those few videotapes, you have to decide just who you might be interested in meeting and possibly dating. Momentous decisions to be made.

As the newest member, you probably have some questions swirling through your mind:

1.   How should I look for my videotaping? How should I dress— casually or in my best?

2.   How should I present myself? Should I reveal my strengths and weaknesses? Or should I lie and make myself seem really de­sirable?

3. Who should I go out with? (All those videotapes!) What factors are important in a date or mate anyway? Should I care what my date looks like? Should I ask out the date I want (no harm in trying) or one I think I can get?

The questions spill out, one after the other. Luckily, social scientists have something to say about these issues. In this chapter, we will present evidence on just how important attractiveness is in the getting-together stage of dating. We discuss how much difference other char­acteristics, such as intelligence and personality, make. We discuss both the fantasy of the dating marketplace, what men and women would like if a genie granted them three wishes, and the reality of the dating marketplace, what people are willing to settle for after they realize they can not get all they want. We will see which matches tend to be good ones, which not.

How Important Are Looks in Romantic Beginnings?

Looks are important in most areas of life, but at the beginning of romance there is probably nothing that counts more. The men and women who sign up for video dating services are well aware of this importance. Most attempt to look their best for the taping. Women apply their makeup more carefully than usual and wear their best clothes. Men get fresh haircuts, shave, and dress more carefully than usual.

What do really homely people do? There are always the jokes:

"I'm planning to put a paper bag over my head and come as the mys­tery videodate."

"I've hired Jeff to stand in for me."

"Now that you mention it, I guess I'll cash in my membership and invest my money in something more profitable—perhaps in a money-market account."

These are wry remarks, but the concern behind them is well placed. Beauty may be only skin deep, but in romantic beginnings apparently the surfaces are what count. There is dramatic evidence indicating how important looks are in the beginning stages of dating.


In the 1960s, Elaine Hatfield and colleagues (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966) organized a dance for freshman at the University of Minnesota.


Figure 4.2.    The first ten seconds.

The men and women were told that a computer would match them with a blind date who would be just right for them. In truth, we matched couples on a more mundane basis—we simple drew names out of a fishbowl.

In the backs of our minds, we were expecting people to like their dates best if they were matched by "social desirability." Tom Sellecks would like Bo Dereks, Plain Joes would like Plain Janes, and, if by chance a gorgeous person and a homely person were matched, both would feel uncomfortable.

When the men and women arrived to purchase their tickets for the dance, we set out to assess their general social desirability. We assumed social desirability was influenced by attributes such as physical attrac­tiveness, intelligence, personality, and social skills. Meticulously, we measured each of these personal characteristics. Participants' attrac­tiveness was secretly assessed by four ticket sellers. Intelligence was assessed by high school grades and by scores on the Minnesota Scho­lastic Aptitude Test. To measure personality, we gave men and women a battery of personality tests, including the prestigious Minnesota Mul­tiphasic Personality Test and the California Personality Inventory. We also assessed their social skills.

At the dance a few days later, the four hundred couples who attended did what people always do at dances—they danced, talked, and got to know one another. Then, during the 10:30 P.M. intermission, we swept through the building, rounding up couples from the dance


floor, lavatories, fire escapes—even adjoining buildings. We asked them to tell us frankly (and in confidence) what they thought of their dates.

What do you think we found? Perhaps you will be in a better position to answer this question if you return to the video dating scenario we set up for you. Imagine you have just viewed several videotapes. You have seen the whole range—everyone from the stun­ning actor (or actress), who promises cruises on his (or her) yacht, to the balding, pudgy mortician, who admits his (or her) hobby is collecting dead baby jokes. If you were guaranteed a date of your choice, who would you select—the actor (actress), the mortician, or someone in between? How attractive, personable, socially skilled, or intelligent would you want your date to be?

Here are some of the things we found:

1.   If you are like the freshman who attended our dance, ideally you would prefer (in fact, insist) on going out with the most appealing dates available. Virtually everyone, including the home­liest men and women, asked to be matched with good-looking blind dates.

2.  Everyone, good-looking or not, insisted their dates be excep­tionally charming, bright, and socially skilled! ("To dream the impossible dream.")

3.   Those whom fate matched up with a beautiful or handsome date wanted to pursue the dream. They wanted to see their computer match again. When we contacted couples six months after the dance to find out the extent to which people had, in fact, pursued their dreams, we also found that daters—good-looking or homely—had continued to pursue the best. The prettier the woman, the more she was pursued by everyone, homely or not.

4.   Every effort to find anything else that mattered failed! Men and women with exceptional IQs and social skills, for example, were not liked any better than those less well endowed.

5.   Finally, both men and women cared equally about their dates' looks. (See also Curran and Lippold [1975].) They secured similar results.

The inordinate importance of good looks in blind date settings has been substantiated by other investigators (see Brislin and Lewis 1966; and Tesser and Brodie 1971).

Some time ago, we asked you to think about what you wanted in a video date. How did your reaction compare with the preceding results? Of course, in your case you merely said what you would like. How would you feel if you were really going to ask the person out and if they could turn down your invitation? Let's carry the exercise a little further.


In the video dating scenario we presented, we guaranteed you a date with the person of your choice. In the computer dating study we actually conducted, the students were also pretty much guaranteed a date for the evening. But rarely does true life contain guarantees. The reality of the dating marketplace is somewhat different.

In fact, a video dating service generally operates as follows: For your membership fee you are allowed to send an invitation to only five or six members each month. If they so desire, these individuals can screen your videotape in return, and, if they are interested, a mutual selection is made and names/phone numbers are given to both parties. Obviously, invitations are not always reciprocated. Particularly desirable candidates, flooded with invitations, will not have the time to respond to all of them. Particularly unappealing candidates may issue five to six invitations, but no one may return their interest. Rejection is a possibility in all interpersonal interactions but is particularly character­istic of the getting-together stage of dating.

Would the knowledge that there has to be "mutual selection" affect your decisions about to whom you would send invitations? If you are like most other people, it will. You may be tempted to aspire for the best, but rejection stings; you may well settle for someone you think you can get. As we predicted several years ago, one's romantic aspi­rations are influenced by "the desirability of the goal and the perceived probability of attaining it" (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966).

Age and experience probably help people get a good sense of what is out there for them. A very experienced gay friend of Elaine Hatfield's observed that:

Gay men who do a great deal of "cruising," can tell in the flicker of an eyelash who'd be interested in them, who'd not. In a bar or on the street, looks is all that matters; everyone has an exquisitely fine-tuned sense of who's available, who's not. There's a real pecking order.

Experiments indicate that, when there is a possibility of rejection, people become a little more realistic in their dating choices. In one study (Huston 1973), men were shown color Polaroid pictures of six women and asked to select one as a date. The women varied markedly in physical attractiveness. Men were also told either that the women had already seen a picture of them and had said they would be willing to date them or were given no information as to whether or not she was likely to date them. What type of woman were men most likely to select? Men were more likely to select a good-looking date when confident she would accept them rather than when they were uncertain about whether or not she would be interested.

The men in this study given no information about the women's desires were asked to estimate whether or not each woman would want to date them. The men assumed the beautiful women would be "harder to get." Furthermore, handsome men perceived their chances of ac­ceptance by the women to be greater than did unattractive men.

Other researchers (Shanteau and Nagy 1979) have also examined whether the probability of acceptance is important in choosing a date. Women were asked to examine the photographs of several pairs of men and, in each case, to choose the one they would prefer to date. The men varied markedly in attractiveness. Below each photograph was a phrase indicating how certain (or uncertain) the man was that he wanted to date her—a conclusion he had supposedly reached after seeing her photograph. Both the attractiveness of the men and the probability of acceptance were found to be important. A man who was both attractive and willing to accept the date was seen as very desirable. A man who was unattractive and unlikely to accept a date was seen as particularly undesirable. (Other experiments, however, have been

Figure 4.3.    Advertising for a date.

less conclusive in indicating the effects of the possibility of rejection. See, for example, Berscheid, Dion, Hatfield [Walster] and Walster [1971].) This research indicates that, ideally, people would prefer to date very attractive others, but, because rejection is costly, they end up choosing someone of about their same level of attractiveness. Social psychologist Bernard Murstein (1971) describes how the risk of rejection moderates dating aspirations:

A man who is physically unattractive (liability), for example, might desire a woman who has the asset of beauty. Assuming, however, that his nonphysical qualities are no more rewarding than hers, she gains less profit than he does from the relationship and thus his suit is likely to be rejected. Rejection is a cost to him because it may lower his self-esteem and increase his fear of failure in future encounters; hence, he may decide to avoid courting women who he perceives as much above him in attractiveness, (p. 113-114)

That people do seem affected by the chances of rejection was also demonstrated in a study conducted in the naturalistic setting of singles

bars (Glenwick, Jason, and Elman 1978). If men in singles bars follow an "idealistic" strategy (following their dreams), attractive women should be approached more frequently than unattractive women. On the other hand, if men follow a more "realistic" strategy (and fear rejection), the attractive and unattractive women should be approached equally often. Using four singles bars in Rochester, New York, the researchers observed unattached women and recorded how attractive each woman was, how many men initiated contact with her, and how long the contacts lasted. The researchers found that men seemed to be choosing a strategy to minimize rejection: Attractive women were not approached more often— or for longer periods of time—than less attractive women.

In Sum

While the students who participated in our early computer dating study (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966) desired the most attractive date, they were guaranteed the date and did not have to face possible rejection.

Other studies indicate that the possibility of rejection lowers men and women's aspirations somewhat. If you actually had to send a limited number of invitations to other video date members and "mutual se­lection" was necessary before names were exchanged, you would also probably be willing to settle for others of about your own level of attractiveness (or risk ending up with no one to call). We are all affected by the possibility of rejection. The dynamics of the marketplace operate to bring people together who are matched in physical attractiveness. Yet, there is no question most of us would prefer the most attractive partner we can possibly get.


Most video daters know how they want to look during their interview— as appealing as possible. But how do they act? What personality traits, attitudes, and interests should they display? And does it really matter how they act, given the importance of physical attractiveness? Here are the kinds of questions that preplex video daters:

How should I present myself? Maybe I should fake it. After all, my friend invested $350 in this for me. I want to be sure someone asks me out. But how do I fake it? Should I demonstrate superior intelligence, or will that just scare possible dates away? (And my God, how would I even know how to act intelligently?) Should I act self-confident, or shy and modest? (Maybe I should be a natural leader, yet someone who can blend into a crowd? Brilliant, but not too "heady." Strong and vulnera­ble? Uhhuh.)

On the other hand, maybe I don't want to try to be something I am not (even if I could figure out just what that was). What good does it do to fake it, to attract someone who loves what you say you are but can't stand you. To discover too late that your perfect match never even took a second look at you, because you were busy pretending to be someone you thought he/she would like better.

What to do? Maybe I'll just shade the truth a little.

In this section, we will present the bits of evidence social scientists have collected on what men and women want in those they date.


Many women are afraid that if they sound too bright they might scare dates off. While we would not recommend claiming degrees, honors,

or IQ points one does not have, it does not hurt, and probably helps to take opportunities to demonstrate brilliance and competence. Ex­periments indicate people are more attracted to men and women who seem intelligent and competent (Aronson, Willerman, and Floyd 1966; Helmreich, Aronson, and LeFan 1970; Solomon and Saxe 1977).

It also seems to pay to act friendly. Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) several decades ago, gives just such advice. In his book, he offers six ways to make others like you:

Rule 1: Become genuinely interested in other people.

Rule 2: Smile.

Rule 3: Remember that a man's name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Rule 4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about them­selves.

Rule 5: Talk in terms of the other man's interest.

Rule 6: Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

Millions of copies of Carnegie's book have been sold. This success is probably because such advice is generally effective. Men and women like all the conventionally appealing things your parents (and Dale Carnegie) said they would. They like to be around "nice" and "friendly" people and those who have generally pleasant and agreeable charac­teristics (Kaplan and Anderson 1973). People also like those who like them. If Abigail learns that Benjamin likes her, probably Abigail will like Benjamin in return (Mette and Aronson 1974). (See Hatfield and Walster [1978] for a review of this literature.)

On the other hand, according to folklore, we should never "throw ourselves" at the people we find appealing. Socrates, Ovid, the Kama Sutra, Bertrand Russell, and "Dear Abby" all agree: Passion is stimulated by excitement and challenge. To find authors in such rare accord is refreshing. Luckily, research clearly shows that, this time, the sages are wrong. Researchers have conducted a number of experiments designed to demonstrate that men and women value hard-to-get dates more than easy-to-get ones. Inevitably, these experiments failed. They all had the same results: If anything, hard-to-get dates are liked less than easy-to-get dates. In general, then, there is no point in pretending to be what you are not. Some poeple prefer secure, easy-to-get dates; others like the excitement of a hard-to-get partner. It all balances out (see Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1973). (Some people like impossible-to-get partners most of all, making for a somewhat distant relationship.)


In the computer dance study (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966), we found that everyone hoped for the best. They wanted a stunningly good-looking partner—who was also bright and sparkling, with a wonderful personality. But rarely is life so accommodating. When people have to make compromises (which is most of the time), what is really most important—"superficial" appearances or more meaningful things such as intelligence, warmth, considerateness, and personality? In romantic beginnings, seemingly superficial appearances are what matter. The discovery that someone has a "great personality" seems to matter very little. Let us consider the research that leads to this conclusion.

In the computer dating study we just described, for most of the young people physical attractiveness was everything; but, maybe that is not so surprising. In certain settings—noisy mixers, singles bars, loud new-wave discos, or computer dances—about all daters can perceive is what their dates look like. In the midst of the din, daters certainly do not have much chance to display their knowledge of world affairs or advanced calculus. In such settings, about all people can go on is looks.

But in other settings, people do get a chance to find out more about one another. A video dating service gives one a chance to do just that. So do church discussion groups, encounter groups, and small parties. What about these settings? What matters most in such settings—how you look or what you are like? Let's see.

What People Say They Want

When teenagers and young adults are asked what characteristics are important in a date, they say there are many factors more important than looks. In one of the earliest studies conducted on dating relation­ships (Perrin 1921), men and women were asked to list the characteristics they cared about in a date. Men were more willing than women to admit they cared about looks, but it was not a very important item for anyone. For example, men insisted that a woman's "sincerity," "indi­viduality," and "affectional disposition" were more important than her looks. (Similar results were secured in another early study by Hill [1945].)

Half a century has not changed these preferences to any great extent. In recent studies (conducted in 1956, 1967, and 1977), when men and women were asked to rate eighteen personal characteristics they desire in a date or mate, good looks ranged from being ninth to

eighteenth in importance (Hudson and Henze 1969; Hudson and Hoyt 1981; McGinnis 1956). Men and women said what they really valued was "dependable character" and "emotional stability." This research will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. Other investigators have found similar results (Miller and Rivenbark 1970; Tesser and Brodie 1971).

People generally say looks are not too important to them, but their actions belie their statements.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: What People Do Value

A variety of experiments suggest that looks are more important than people are able or willing to admit. In such studies, men and women are shown photographs of potential dates, who range from fairly homely to breathtakingly appealing. They are also given a brief personality sketch of each date. The potential date is described as having either a desirable personality trait or its opposite. Researchers conducted these experiments to see if attractiveness still has a powerful effect, even when compared to other powerful factors.

These studies suggest that looks overshadow everything else. It seems to matter very little to men (all the subjects in these studies have been male) if they are told their potential date is independent versus dependent (Meredith 1972), trustworthy versus untrustworthy (Shepard 1973), relaxed versus anxious (Mathes 1975), or boastful versus modest (Stretch and Figley 1980). Attractive dates were overwhelmingly preferred to unattractive ones, while trustworthy or honest or inde­pendent dates were preferred only slightly more (or sometimes not any more) than untrustworthy or dishonest or dependent dates.

Other evidence also confirms that good looks are more important than good character or personality in the dating marketplace. Elaine Hatfield and colleagues (Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966) asked more than seven hundred young men and women, "How popular are you with the opposite sex?" and "How many dates have you had in the last six months?" As you might expect, attractive men and women were more popular and dated more often. In this same study, intelligence, per­sonality, and social skills seemed to have little impact on popularity (similar results were found by Berscheid et al. 1971).

What can we conclude from all these studies? In romantic begin­nings, attractiveness is exceedingly important. We are aroused by others who are physically and personally appealing. Appearance, which we tend to think of as only a superficial trait, appears to be far more critical in the dating marketplace than traits we think of as of deeper importance—such as intelligence, personality, and social skills. Why?


We have documented that men and women do prefer "10's" over "6's," but we have not addressed why this is so. There are at least three reasons:

1  Aesthetic Appeal: Just as it is pleasant to live in a beautiful environment, possess appealing paintings, and collect beautiful objects, it is also pleasant to be around beautiful people. Infants as young as four months prefer good looks to ugliness. Investigators (Kagan et al. 1966) showed infants faces that were either normal or terribly distorted. The infants were content to gaze at the normal face, but they reacted with anxiety, fear, and crying when shown the distorted face. Aesthetic concerns probably increase as we become older.

2  The Glow of Beauty: Good looks radiate. Appearance influences how we think about other's nonphysical characteristics. Most people presume the Bo Dereks and Tom Sellecks of the world are perfect in every way. Attractive people are assumed to be unusually sensitive, kind, interesting, strong, poised, modest, sociable, outgoing, more ex­citing dates, and sexually warm and responsive (Berscheid and Hatfield [Walster] 1974). In chapters 2 and 3, we provided evidence that attractive people are perceived more positively in a wide variety of settings—in schools, on the job, by the mental health system, in the courtroom, and so on. It is not surprising, then, that attractive people are preferred as dating partners, for they are expected to have a monopoly on all the good things life has to offer.

Also, of course, the stereotypes about good-looking people just may contain a "kernel of truth." Possibly good-looking people, who are treated so graciously by others, actually become the beautiful and the best—sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Such a possibility will be dis­cussed in chapter 8.)

This explanation for why a "10" is preferred over a "6," therefore, suggests it has nothing to do with good looks, per se. The preference exists because of the inner qualities that are assumed to develop (or actually do develop) as a result of having an appealing exterior.

Beauty "Rubs Off": There is also a selfish reason for wanting to associate with attractive people. Attractive men and women may be preferred because our self-esteem and prestige are bolstered when irresistable people find us irresistable. Sociologist Willard Waller (1937) spoke about this process in his discussion of the "rating and dating" complex. In describing college campuses several decades ago, he said men and women rated potential dates (1 to 10) and tried to date the

best. Their success or failure at this game provided evidence to them­selves and to others about just how valuable they were.

The "rating and dating" complex is not just a quaint reminder of the past. Even today, people gain by merely being seen with someone good-looking. In one study, for example, men were asked their first impression of another man. Tucked in at the man's side was a girlfriend, either ravishingly beautiful or exceedingly homely. (Sometimes the man was alone.) When a man was accompanied by a beauty, he was evaluated most favorably. Indeed, a man was better off being seen alone than when associated with a homely woman (Sigall and Landy 1973).

Do women gain just as much by being seen with a handsome man? Not necessarily. In another study (Bar-Tal and Saxe 1976), men and women looked at a series of slides of married couples and judged the husband and wife on several dimensions. If an ugly man had an unusually beautiful wife, the judges assumed he must have something to offer. They assumed he must be unusually bright, rich, or profes­sionally successful. The same assumptions were not made for the women. If an ugly woman had an unusually handsome husband, she gained nothing in how she was judged. She was evaluated strictly on her own merit.

Physical attractiveness matters, then, and we have considered some of the reasons why. But is physical attractiveness equally important to everyone? Is it equally important in all settings?


Probably everyone, then, cares about looks a little. But surely there is variation among people in just how important physical attractiveness is. The importance of physical attractiveness should also vary across situations. In this section, we will discuss how physical attractiveness may be more important: (1) to some people than to others; and (2) in certain settings. We will present what past research indicates and will also speculate a little on our own. This area is one in which much more research is clearly needed. Certainly, there are many homely men and women eager to find out the exceptions to the general preference for good looks.

For Some People, Looks Do Not Matter Quite So Much

Some people seem to care far more about looks than do others. We will consider four characteristics that may influence how important a

good-looking dating partner is: (1) age; (2) self-esteem; (3) personality; and (4) gender.


Young people are often especially concerned about looks. At least, our personal experiences would suggest this is so.

Elaine Hatfield once gave a surprise birthday party for Michelle, a 12-year old who was staying at her house. Since Michelle is an unusually adult little girl, rather than inviting Michelle's friends, we invited a col­lection of older people—including some well-known authors, psycholo­gists, artists, and craftspeople. As we sat talking after dinner, Michelle was asked how she liked junior high school. She said that, at first, as a newcomer, she had been considered "A Nothing" . . . but, she said blithely, "it is just a matter of time until I'm one of the most popular girls."

Intrigued by her confidence, a physicist asked, "What does it take to be a 'super-star'?" Michelle answered matter-of-factly, "Girls have to have big breasts; boys have to be athletes." (She considered her own budding breasts to be big; we could barely see their lines under her dress.) The table suddenly became very quiet. The "adults" were re­minded of their own painful high school experiences. "Surely," said the physicist (who was obviously not an athlete) with uneasy enthusiasm, "there are other ways for a boy to be popular. What if he has a great sense of humor?" Michelle pronounced with finality, "Well, he could be a friend, but no one would want him for a boyfriend." The laws of the dating jungle are relentless, and there is perhaps no worse time than junior high and high school for those who don't "stack up."

Looks may be especially important to young people because of their need to conform in order to be popular (or at least to be accepted) by their peers. While it may sound bizarre today, when Elaine Hatfield was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the late 1950s, one of the prestigious sororities fined sisters who dared to "damage the house reputation" by dating ugly men. While sororities today probably no longer have fines for "dating down," there is still a great deal of pressure to date men from the right fraternities (the fraternities that have good-looking men!). Young men have the same kinds of pressures to date beautiful women.

We suspect that by the time men and women reach middle age, they have learned that looks matter less, while wit, intelligence, per­sonality, and character matter more. Although common sense suggests that looks matter more to younger people than to older individuals, little evidence exists to verify this notion. Unfortunately, no computer dating studies have been conducted with senior citizens. One study

that did look at older people's general impressions of physically attractive versus physically unattractive people found that older people are not immune to the physical attractiveness stereotype. Age does not seem to diminish the belief that "what is beautiful is good' (Adams and Huston 1975). However, only further research will indicate whether older people are as likely as younger people to insist on the most attractive dating partner they can get.


Fundamental to how we feel about others is how we feel about ourselves. Just how is self-esteem related to dating choice? There really is not a simple answer. Self-esteem could have two different effects.

First, people with low self-esteem are often afraid they will be rejected. They fear stepping out of line and being different. They seek social approval. Shy teenagers, unsure of themselves, find it very difficult to date a person friends find unappealing. High self-esteem individuals, on the other hand, are not so desperate for social approval. They can afford to date someone much less attractive than they are. They have enough prestige "credits" to be unconcerned about the "rating and dating" complex we described earlier. (Gergen [1974] discusses self-esteem and interpersonal attraction.)

But there is another possibility. When people have high self-esteem, they have the confidence to approach anyone they desire. Thus, they are more likely to take a chance and approach a good-looking man or woman (who is also intelligent, charming, and considerate). In a de­lightful experiment, Sara Kiesler and Roberta Baral (1970) demonstrated this hypothesis—the greater a person's self-esteem, the more likely he or she is to approach striking dates. The researchers recruited college men to participate in a study on intelligence testing. After the men completed the first portion of the IQ test, they were told how they were doing. The researchers tried to raise the self-esteem of some of the men by giving them fake IQ test results indicating they had done very well. The self-esteem of the other men was temporarily lowered by telling them they had done poorly. At intermission, the experimenter suggested they take a coffee break. They walked to a nearby canteen and sat down. Once they were seated, the experimenter's assistant walked over and joined them. On some days, the assistant was beau­tifully made up and dressed. On other days, she was made up to be downright ugly. (She wore heavy glasses and her hair was pulled back with a rubber band. Her blouse and skirt clashed and were sloppily arranged.) During the coffee break, the experimenter left, ostensibly to make a phone call. The man was left alone with the woman. The assistant carefully noted how much interest the man expressed in her.

Did he offer to buy her a coke? Did he ask for her phone number? Did he even go so far as to ask her out? When the man's self-esteem was unusually high, he was most romantic with the attractive woman. On the other hand, if his self-regard was at rock bottom, he was more comfortable approaching the homely woman.

What can we conclude about the possible effects of self-esteem on responsiveness to physical attractiveness? We would hypothesize that if individuals do not have to risk rejection (for example, women have traditionally been asked out rather than doing the asking), then a deficit of self-esteem will lead them to aspire to the most attractive partner possible. Because their esteem needs are unfulfilled, such persons are especially in need of any prestige that could "rub-off" on them. On the other hand, if people have to risk the chance of rejection (they have to do the asking and are not sure of the outcome), impoverished self-esteem might lead them to flee any chance of having their self-esteem assaulted even further.


Are there certain personality types especially captivated by looks? One study examined the relationship between having a "macho" personality and reacting to physically attractive versus unattractive persons of the opposite sex (Touhey 1979). Men and women were asked to complete the Macho Scale, which measures the extent to which people possess traditional sexist stereotypes, attitudes, and behaviors. What are macho men and women? In general, these individuals agree with statements such as:

1.   It's  alright  that  most women  are  more  interested in  getting married than in making something of themselves.

2.   A wife shouldn't contradict her husband in public.

3.   I would not want to be part of a couple where the male was considerably shorter than the female.

4.   For the most part, it is better to be a man than to be a woman.

5.   "Henpecked" is a good word for describing some husbands.

(from the Macho Scale by Villemez and Touhey 1977)

The researchers showed men and women a photograph of someone of the opposite sex who was either attractive ("neatly groomed, smiling, relaxed, and approachable") or unappealing ("discheveled and squinting . . . sported a less inviting demeanor"). They were also given bio-

graphical information. Finally, they were asked how much they liked this person of the opposite sex and if they wanted to date him or her.

First, it must be pointed out that most of the men and women cared at least a little about looks. In general, an attractive model was liked more than a homely one. However, it was the highly macho men and women who cared most desperately. They were unusually eager to date good-looking partners and unusually quick to reject homely ones. They seemed less influenced by the biographical information. In fact, they had a hard time even remembering what was in it. The non-machos were far less swayed by looks and did remember the contents of the biographical information.

Another recent study (Anderson and Bern 1981) produced similar results. Men and women who were sex-typed, adhering tightly to traditional male/female roles, (as measured by the Bern Sex-Role In­ventory) were more likely than androgynous men and women to be more responsive to attractive than to unattractive strangers.


The ideal beauties teach women that their looks are a commodity to be bartered in exchange for a man, not only for food, clothing, and shelter, but for love. Women learn early that if you are unlovely, you are unloved. The homely girl prepares to be an old maid, because beauty is what makes a man fall in love. ... A man's love is beauty deep. Beauty is man's only and sufficient reason for lusting, loving, and marrying a woman. Doesn't a man always say you're beautiful before he says I love you? Don't we all think it strange when a man marries a girl who isn't pretty and not at all strange when he marries a dumb beauty? Is it therefore surprising that even the great beauty fears a man's love will not survive her looks, and the average woman is con­vinced that no man can really love her? (Stannard 1971, 124)

According to popular belief, in the dating and mating game men care more than women about having a good-looking romantic partner. This assumption is so built into our belief systems that if the words "man" and "woman" were switched in the above paragraph, it would seem very strange indeed. Try it:

The ideal muscle men teach men that their looks are a commodity to be bartered in exchange for a woman, not only for food, clothing, and shelter, but for love. Men learn early that if you are unlovely, you are unloved. The homely boy prepares to be a bachelor, because looks are what makes a woman fall in love. . . .

Is physical attractiveness really more important to men than to women, or is this mere belief? Theorists have assumed that men are

more obsessed than women with appearance. Sociobiologists contend that men and women are genetically programmed to desire different things from their intimate relations (see Hagen 1979; Symons 1979; and Wilson 1975). Symons (1979) argues that gender differences are probably the most powerful determinants of how people behave sex­ually. Symon's sociobiological argument proceeds as follows: According to evolutionary biology, animals inherit characteristics that ensure they will transmit a maximum number of their genes to the next generation. It is to men and women's advantage to produce as many surviving children as possible. But men and women differ in one critical respect— to produce a child, men need only invest a trivial amount of energy; a single man can conceivably father an almost unlimited number of children. On the other hand, a woman can conceive only a limited number of children. It is to a woman's advantage to ensure the survival of the children she does conceive. Symons observes, "The enormous sex differences in minimum parental investment and in reproductive opportunities and constraints explain why Homo sapiens, a species with only moderate sex differences in structure, exhibits profound sex dif­ferences in psyche" (p. 27).

What are the gender differences Symons insists are "wired in"? According to Symons,

1.   Men desire a variety of sex partners; women do not.

2.   Men are inclined to be polygamous (possessing many wives). Women are more malleable in this respect; they are equally satisfied in polygamous, monogamous, or polyandrous marriages (possessing many husbands).

3.   Men are sexually jealous. Women are more malleable in this respect; they are concerned with security—not fidelity.

4.   Men are sexually aroused by the sight of women and women's genitals; women are not aroused by men's appearance.

5.  For men, "sexual attractiveness" equals "youth." For women, "sexual attractiveness" equals "political and economic power."

6.   Men have every reason to pursue women actively. They are programmed to impregnate as many women as possible. Women have every reason to be "coy." It takes time to decide if a man is a good genetic risk—is likely to be nurturant and protective.

7.   Men are intensely competitive with one another. Competition over women is the most frequent cause of violence. Women are far less competitive.

Figure 4.4.    Sociobiologists believe men are wired up to care about beauty and youth. ©1959 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Presumably, men are genetically "wired up" to care about beauty and youth in their lovers. Women, on the other hand, are attracted by political and economic power instead. (Henry Kissinger once observed that "power is the best aphrodisiac")

The sociobiologists' arguments sound good, but there is a more compelling, albeit a more prosaic, explanation for why beauty is so important to men. Traditionally, men have had more social and economic power than have women. Thus, men can afford to select a beautiful and sexy mate without worrying too much about her other assets. Women have to be more practical. As one shrewd observer (Waller 1938, 162) noted: "There is this difference between the man and the woman in the pattern of middle-class family life: a man, when he marries, chooses a companion and perhaps a helpmate, but a woman chooses a companion and at the same time a standard of living. It is necessary for a woman to be mercenary." Feminist Arlie Hochschild (1975) agrees.

Other theorists (Bar-Tal and Saxe 1976) have observed that, tra­ditionally, women are expected to provide the husband with affection, to be sexually responsive, to be a good housekeeper, and to take care of the children. Thus, beauty provides an important external cue as to

whether or not a woman can adequately fulfill her traditional role. In contrast, women look for men who will be good providers—they search for men of good education and occupation rather than men of good looks.

Theorists believe that men are more concerned about beauty than women—but are they? They are. When men and women are asked what they want in a date, men admit they are more concerned about appearances than are women. Several years ago, one thousand college men and college women were asked what qualities they desired in a dating partner (Coombs and Kendell 1966). Men were more insistent on having a good-looking partner. In answer to the question, "To what extent is it important that your date be good looking or attractive?" 22 percent of the men, but only 7 percent of the women said it was "very important." What did women want? They were more likely than men to expect all the following qualities in a date: he should be of the same race, the same religion, a good dancer, possess high campus status, high scholastic ability, wear stylish clothes, and belong to a fraternity. A variety of other studies indicate that men are more concerned than women with appearances in a variety of settings—first encounters, work, dating, and marriage (Coombs and Kendell 1966; Hewitt 1958; Miller and Rivenbark 1970; Stroebe, Insko, Thompson, and Layton 1971; Vail and Staudt 1950; Williamson 1966).

Men's concern with beauty is also reflected in their behavior. Two researchers (Harrison and Saeed 1977) examined over eight hundred lonely hearts advertisements that appeared in a national weekly tabloid. Such ads are placed in all types of newspapers and go something like the following:

NON-GENERIC MALE, 36, wants to meet pretty, slim, working woman; 25-35 ish; must be well read, articulate, witty, with a finely tuned sense of the absurd. No Psychobabble, please. Write Chuck, Box 403 B

GAY? I am dissatisfied with the gay bar scene; frustrated by the lack of constructive human contact. I wish to meet a like-minded gay man. If you're interested too, call Bill at 658-0965.

WOMAN, tired of the obsession with superficial appearances, wants man who is concerned with deeper qualities—one who possesses spirit­ual concerns, a passion for life. . .  . Send picture.

PRETTY WOMAN, I WOULD LIKE TO MEET YOU. I know beauty is only skin deep. I did not used to care so much about beauty, but now I will not settle for less than the best. I also treasure an alert mind, w/serious interests (whether they be electrical engineering or scuba diving). Kindness and basic human decancy. In the past, I wanted a woman who was an outstanding success; now I care more about per-

Figure 4.5.    Preparing for life. © 1981, Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

sonal qualities. Filing clerk, unemployed artist, fallen woman, or fast track exec.—it's the person rather than the occupation I care about. Write Oscar, Box 921.

The researchers found that men and women are well aware of men's special concern with appearances. As expected, they found that women were more likely than men to offer attractiveness, while men were more likely to seek it. As far as financial security, women were more likely to seek it, while men were more likely to offer it. Finally, another major sex difference was that women were likely to seek someone older, while men were likely to seek someone younger.

Other evidence indicates that attractiveness is more tightly linked to dating popularity for women than for men (Berscheid et al. 1971; Krebs and Adinolfi 1975; Hatfield [Walster] et al. 1966). Beautiful women have more dates than homely women, while a man's attractiveness (or lack thereof) is not as important in determining how busy his social calendar is.

This greater obsession in men with looks is not limited to our society. Interestingly, Ford and Beach (1951), who studied men and women in 190 societies, also concluded: "One interesting generalization is that in most societies, the physical beauty of the female receives more explicit consideration than does the handsomeness of the male. The attractiveness of the man usually depends predominantly upon his skills of prowess rather than upon his physical appearance" (p. 86).

One observation: Traditionally, men have cared about beauty while women were concerned with finding a good provider. These gender differences, however, may be on their way out. As women begin to have successful careers and become financially independent, they may have the luxury of insisting that their men be handsome and athletic (consider the popular song by Diana Ross, "I Want Muscles"). Many men may decide to accept the changes women are demanding. They may be willing to sacrifice having a beautiful date in order to have someone who can share the expenses. In the future, we may start to see less traditional and more individually tailored matches.

In conclusion, then, if you want to capitalize on your looks, you should spend your time with young people who have "appropriate" levels of self-esteem and who hold traditional macho values (and it helps if you are a woman). On the other hand, if you do not want your dating success to be totally determined by your looks, seek out people with the opposite characteristics.

Thus far, we have considered what types of people care most about beauty. Now let us consider the settings in which beauty matters more (or less).


We opened this chapter by asking you to imagine you were seeking dates via a video dating service. While such services do exist, most people meet romantic partners in more typical ways—at work, school, parties, bars, and through friends. Does physical attractiveness matter more (or less) in some of these settings than in others?

Where and How People Meet and Begin Dating

In what settings do most people meet? Dr. Gerald Marwell, our colleague and friend at the University of Wisconsin, recently became interested in this question when he realized there is a striking lack of information on how couples actually "get together." Susan Sprecher joined him and others in a research project designed to find out the process by which young adults meet and begin dating (Marwell, Sprecher, Mc-Kinney, DeLamater, and Smith 1982).

We interviewed a random sample of over one hundred college sophomores from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We asked them to think of their most recent relationship:

We want you to think of the last person you met since coming to the university with whom you have had some experience in which the two of you were definitely a "couple." You might have met only that evening for the first time, or you might have met previously. But at least for an hour or so, the two of you were together in what was clearly a couples relationship.

We wanted to learn about a variety of encounters—from the short-term to the long-term encounter.

We then asked men and women a set of questions about these romantic beginnings, for example: Where did you first meet this person? Were you introduced to him/her? If you were not introduced, who initiated the meeting—you or him/her? The most common meeting location was at parties—in either dorms, apartments, or fraternities. Classes were the next most frequent meeting place, followed by bars and nonparty dorm locations. For a more exact breakdown on the settings in which college couples met, see Table 4.1.

A substantial portion of relationships got their start from introduc­tions from a third party. Someone, usually a friend, introduced 33 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women to their date. For those couples not introduced by a third party, typically the man was the initiator. Half the women and one-third of the men reported that their partner was the initiator. Forty percent of the men, but only 15

TABLE 4.1    Where Do Most College Couples Meet?




Party in apartment, dorm, or fraternity


Bar or restaurant

Dorm (but not a party)

Other public university location

(cafeterias, library) Other (sports, work)

28% 25% 15% 23%

3% 7%





13% 13%

percent of the women, said they were the initiator. The rest reported that both initiated the meeting, or that it was just happenstance.

Although men and women believe men are the initiators of romantic first meetings, as indicated in the above study careful observation of men and women getting together indicates this may not be so. Timothy Perper and Susan Fox (1980) observed single people of varying ages in New Jersey and New York City bars. These investigators overturned one of our most beloved cultural myths—that the man is usually the aggressor. They found the woman often makes the first move. But because her move is subtle—usually nothing more than standing close to him—understandably the man (and woman) might erroneously be­lieve he started the interaction.

Both men and women seem to be equally effective in their pick­up attempts. Perper and Fox (1980) found that neither gender dominates a successful flirtation. Indeed, it is hard to separate the influencing agent from the influencee. Each person takes a turn at signaling his/ her interest. As the couple's relationship becomes more secure, flirtation strategies become more obvious:

[A woman] commonly touches the man before he touches her. Her touch is made, typically with the palm of the hand flat, and not with the fingertips, in a light, fleeting and pressing gesture. .  . . She might brush against him with her hip or back, she may lean on him briefly, or she might brush against him while she turns to look at something. An alternative is for the woman to remove an otherwise nonexistent piece of lint from the man's jacket (men's jackets in bars collect such lint very readily), (p. 18)

Touching is safe. It can be interpreted as accidental if the other just is not interested. For this reason, women often use it as a way to initiate an encounter.

After a couple actually manages to meet, the rules for who asks whom out have traditionally been rather strict. The traditional woman could, at most, make herself attractive. She is not allowed to call the

man or to start a new relationship. In contrast, the traditional man (shy or not) is responsible for initiating all relationships with women. Women, of course, are traditionally the ones who set limits. They have the power to say yes or no.

Traditional rules still seem to prevail. Men and women still state that men initiate new dating relationships (Allgeier 1981; Green and Sandos 1980). For example, in the study we conducted at the University of Wisconsin (Marwell et al. 1982), men were more likely to ask the women out than the reverse. Not everyone, however, is happy with this situation. Men, in fact, are more in favor of women initiating and paying for dates than women are! (see Allgeier 1981; McCormick and Jesser, 1982.) Times may be ripe for change.

In What Settings Are Good Looks Most Important?

The preceding statistics tell us where men and women usually meet and who initiates the encounter, but in which of these settings is beauty most important? Where least?

Social psychologist Bernard Murstein (1970) points out that settings can be characterized by how "closed" or "open" they are. In open fields, people have a great deal of choice about with whom they interact. The video dating setting is an example of an open field. There, you can look at the members and send out invitations, or you can just flip to the next page. Other examples of open fields include singles bars and large social gatherings.

In closed fields, people are forced to interact over prolonged periods of time. They often have little choice about interacting with each other. Work is an example of a closed field. Day after day the same people interact. They get to know one another well. The man or woman in the cubicle next to you may never hit the pages of Gentlemen's Quarterly or Vogue, but in time you learn that he or she has a great sense of humor, is kind and dependable, and, well, you've just grown accustomed to his or her face.

We speculate that beautiful people shine in open fields, while homely men and women do relatively better in closed fields. In open fields, looks are often all that can be known. In closed fields, both appealing and homely people profit from the chance to reveal their personalities to others.

We also predict that as long as men do most of the asking out, the physical attractiveness of women will continue to be an important determinant of their dating frequency. However, if women begin to initiate more interaction, physical attractiveness might come to be an equally important (or unimportant) influence on the dating popularity of men and women.

Advice To The Lovelorn

We have reviewed much of what social psychologists know about romantic relationships. (For a complete review, see Hatfield and Walster [1978].) Based on the material we have reviewed and some we have not yet considered, what advice can we give men and women interested in meeting others for romantic beginnings? Now that we know the reality of the dating marketplace, what can be done to make it more in tune with your fantasy?

If you are looking for a lover, search for a friend. Recently, scientists have begun to study lonely people who hunger for romance and love (see Peplau and Perlman 1982). Russell, Peplau, and Cutrona (1980) have developed the most commonly used measure of loneliness—the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The scale contains items such as in Table 4.2.

Scientists find that most lonely people long for a romantic affair. But, paradoxically, single-minded men and women who set out looking for romance end up worse off than those who take time to make a few good friends along the way. In fact, the most effective strategy for finding a lover is apparently to concentrate, at first, on finding good friends. (The latter are generally easier to find.) Then, they can introduce you to romantic beginnings (Cutrona 1982).

TABLE 4.2   The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale

Directions:    Indicate how often you feel the way described following statements. Circle one number for each



of the






1. I lack companionship.







2. There is no one I can turn to.







3. I am no longer close to anyone.







4. I feel left out.







5. My social  relationships  are  su­perficial.







6. No one really knows me well.







7. I feel isolated from others.







Note: Reprinted by permission from D. Russell, L.A. Peplau, and C.E. Cutrona, "The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale: Concurrent and Discriminant Validity Evidence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, no. 3 (1980): 475.

•  If you are good-looking and want to capitalize on your looks, you might do well to see and be seen. Spend your time in open fields, such as single bars.

•  If you are average or less in looks, you would do better to concentrate more on people you see in classes or work. Join small clubs and activities. These are closed fields. Let people get to know you in these settings.

•  If you are not shy and you meet someone to whom you are attracted, ask him or her out—fine advice for men, but what about women? Traditionally, women have assumed that if they are "too forward," men will be scared off (McCormick and Jessor 1982). Re­searchers at the University of Wisconsin (no reference available), how­ever, found that men are heartier than they are reputed to be. If a woman is reasonably attractive, with an acceptable personality, it makes little difference whether she asks the man out or waits patiently for him to get around to asking her out. Men simply like attractive women, whether they are passive or aggressive. What if a woman is not the kind of woman a man would normally want to date? Perhaps she is unattractive and acts obnoxiously. Again, whether she takes the initiative or waits futilely for him to matters little. Men dislike her (equally) either way. Thus, if taking the initiative—regardless of whether you are a man or a woman (attractive or unattractive)—you may lose a little pride, but you will not damage your chances for a good relationship. Furthermore, you will save a lot of time. (Similar results were secured by Muehlenhard and McFall [1982].)

What are your chances for success? Russell D. Clark and Elaine Hatfield (see Clark and Hatfield 1981) tried to find out via a simple experiment. We selected college men and women who varied from "slightly unattractive" to "moderately attractive" in appearance and asked them to help us run the experiment. We asked them to approach attractive men and women of the opposite sex and say: "I have been noticing you around campus and I find you to be very attractive." Then they were to ask them one of three questions: (1) "Would you go out with me tonight?" (2) "Would you come over to my apartment tonight?" or (3) "Would you go to bed with me tonight?"

To our surprise, we found it was surprisingly easy for men and women to get a date, if only they have enough courage to ask. More than half the men and women approached agreed to go out with a complete stranger!

Another surprise, in this day of equality, was the big difference in men versus women's willingness to have sex with a complete stranger. Men and women responded as tradition would predict. Men readily accepted sexual invitations, while women were extremely reluctant to do so. Women generally refused to go to a man's apartment or to have

TABLE 4.3    Percentage of Compliance with Each Request





Male Female



6% 69%



sexual relations with him. Men, on the other hand, were fairly willing to go to strange women's apartments or to bed! Equally interesting were men and women's reactions to the requests. In general, men were intrigued by a sexual invitation. They made comments such as, "Why do we have to wait until tonight?" or "I can't tonight, but tomorrow would be fine." Often, the men that said "no" were apologetic—i.e., "I'm married," or "I'm going with someone." In contrast, the women's reactions to the intimate requests were, "You've got to be kidding," or "What is wrong with you, leave me alone."

If you are too shy to ask for a date, rely on "social density" networks. Arrange it so you are always in the same place at the same time— surrounded by other people, of course. Then, one time, it will just seem appropriate to form a smaller group—just the two of you. Simply by happenstance (although a happenstance carefully planned) you may become a couple.

In the next chapter, we go beyond the first date, beyond romantic beginnings. Then, things get a little more complicated.

Chapter 5




The first date I had with this man was just awful! He was so incre­dibly awkward on that date—spilling things, saying the wrong things, simply not knowing how to handle himself. However, when the evening came to an end, and he asked me out for a second date, I didn't hesi­tate for a second. Any man that gorgeous, I thought, should get a sec­ond chance. And I'm glad I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I ended up falling in love with him, and we've lived happily ever after. But if he hadn't been so handsome, I probably wouldn't have gone out with him for a second time. (Fifty-year-old woman from THE GROUP)

Getting the first date is only the first step on the road to forming long-term, intimate relationships. Looks may help you get the first date—possibly even a second—but then other characteristics become important. People begin to look beyond the outside wrappings to see what is on the inside. Slowly, they discover whether the person is everything they want him or her to be—or maybe even more (or less?). You will notice little things—her favorite television shows, whether she


smokes, and how she behaves when she gets angry. You also search for major information: What are his dreams and goals? What is his history (any skeletons in the closet)? As you take in all this information, you are always asking: Is this what I want? Am I what he/she wants? All these considerations begin to emerge as the first date turns into a second, a third, and a fourth. Perhaps looks do not become any less important, but other factors become more and more important.


In chapter 4, we showed how the law of supply and demand operates in the dating marketplace to bring Gorgeous Georges and Georgettes and Plain Joes and Janes together for a first date. In this chapter, we will show that such "perfect matches" are probably the happiest and the most likely to last.

There is considerable evidence that couples matched in appearance do have a head start on happiness. In one study (Silverman 1971), couples were observed in several natural settings—in movie theater lines, in singles bars, and at assorted social events. A team of researchers rated the daters' looks. Not so surprisingly, it was found that most couples were remarkably similar in attractiveness. A handsome man was most likely to have a beautiful woman on his arm. A homely man was likely to be spotted buying a drink for a homely woman.

This study also found that "similarity breeds content." The more similar the couples in physical appeal, the more delighted they seemed to be with each another, as reflected in intimate touching. Sixty percent of the couples similar in attractiveness were engaged in some type of touching. On the other hand, only 22 percent of mismatched couples were touching.

Other evidence that dating couples tend to be matched in physical attractiveness was found by social psychologist Bernard Murstein (1972). He meticulously arranged to have judged for attractiveness photographs of several hundred couples going steady or engaged. Long-term dating couples were better matched in attractiveness than randomly paired couples.

Further evidence that "similarity breeds content" and may even lead to wedding plans was found in a study of 123 couples from the University of California, Los Angeles, who responded to campus ad­vertisements for participants in a study on romantic relationships. Many of the couples were casually or seriously dating; a few were engaged or married. The partners came into the researchers' laboratory to have

their pictures taken (their attractiveness was rated from these) and to complete a questionnaire on their relationship.

Couples well matched in attractiveness were most in love. They were most likely to score high on Rubin's (1970) Love Scale, which includes items such as:

1.   I feel that I can confide in__________about virtually everything.

2.   If I could never be with __________, I would feel miserable.

3.   I would forgive __________for practically anything.

Nine months later, the couples were asked about their relationships once again. For the couples still together it was the "well matched" couples whose love was more likely to have swelled. Couples who were mismatched were more likely to have broken up.

In addition, the researchers found that although causal daters were fairly well matched and serious daters were even better matched, the engaged and married couples were the best matched of all. Seemingly, therefore, the relationships surviving the courtship stage and getting as far as the altar are those in which the couples are well matched (White 1980b).

We will now march you to the altar. (But don't worry. You can annul everything at the end of the section.) How important is attrac­tiveness to you in choosing a mate with whom to spend a lifetime (or some fraction thereof)?


Queen Anne of Cleves was the first "picture bride." In 1540, Henry VIII of England wanted to make Germany an ally, so he began a search for a German bride. Anne of Cleves was a leading prospect. He sent court artist Hans Holbein the Younger to paint a "perfect likeness." Holbein painted a flattering portrait of Anne, and Henry fell in love. He traveled, laden with presents, to meet her boat. When he saw Anne, he was repulsed by her appearance. She was tall and gangly, and her face was pitted from smallpox. She was equally repulsed by the aging and portly Henry. Although they went through with the marriage, it was never consummated. Eventually they agreed on an annulment (see Illustration 5.2).

In spite of this difficult start, mail-order brides have long been a way for men and women to find mates. In frontier Alaska, in the Old West during gold rush days, and in Hawaii in the 1900s, men and women in search of partners exchanged pictures. If they liked what they saw, they married, sight unseen.

The tradition continues. Today, japan International, Sherry West, Club Joy, Inter Pacific, The Waysider, and Candy Friend are among the dozens of publications around the world that advertise mail-order brides. Cherry Blossoms is the best known; in Hawaii, over one thousand men subscribe to this catalog. As you can see from Illustration 5.3, men are assumed to be very concerned with the potential brides' vital statistics. No doubt the women are equally concerned.

•  Sheila is a thirty-year-old Malaysian Indian housewife whose face would not launch a thousand ships. But what she gives you a glimpse of below the neck, in full color, even I have to admire. If she's only 35-26V2-36 as she says, she must have a small rib cage. She likes par­ties, dances and films (the spicier the better!) and makes it clear that if she likes you, you will be welcome to visit her for fun and games.

•  I am rarely at a loss for words, but this lady leaves me speechless (almost). She is English, an office worker, and she says she collects men. In the photo she shows off her legs from the ankles right up almost to the hip joint. So far so good. She's a little overweight, but that just makes more to hold onto. What I can't get over is the part above the neck. Somebody must have switched the heads. She looks much more like a stern old school marm than a modern swinger. Kind of makes me wonder what she does with the men after she "collects" them. Would you like to find out? $6

•  This lady is good looking except for the disturbing wen on the end of her nose. It would be easy for a doctor to remove that blemish and two other less conspicuous ones on her face. Secretarial student, 18, name Josephine. $10.

•  Ivy may not have the full figure of the preceding two ladies, but she has a full sense of humor. "Vital statistics? Forget it! Rather picture a bean pole and compare it to my body. You'll find no difference." "She's 29, Malaysian, works as a cartographer's assistant, has average looks (wears glasses) and I don't see that her figure is as bleak as she suggests.

—Cherry Blossoms (1982)

The Cherry Blossoms editors leave nothing to chance. For example, they give subscribers a pamphlet entitled, "How to Write to Oriental Ladies":

Use your judgment also about when to send your photo. If you are very good looking, your photo should help to bring an early reply. If you are not so attractive, it might be better to wait until you have established a correspondence. Use the extra time to have several pictures taken of yourself so you can pick out the best one (get some friend's opinions too). It's a good idea to be neatly dressed when the photo is taken. Most of our ladies are more concerned about your personality and values—and most importantly, your attitude about them—than they

are about your appearance. But they do want to see what you look like, and it doesn't hurt to put your best image forward, (p. 12)

Pomeroy and Broussard, 1984

Cherry Blossoms editors recognize that looks will be critically im­portant for getting initial attention through the mail, but as they told the interested men, "Most of our ladies are more concerned about your personality and values." Is this statement true, or were the editors only lending false optimism to the subscribers, perhaps to increase business? No, the editors were probably sincere, just as were all the young people who participated in the following studies on "campus values in mate selection," who claimed that physical attractiveness is not that important in a mate.

Early sociologists became intrigued with the question, "What are the factors important in mate selection?" What characteristics do people want in someone with whom they will live until death do they part? As far back as 1939, sociologist Rueben Hill (1945) had college students at the University of Wisconsin complete a questionnaire on "campus values in mate selection." When these students were asked how im­portant and indispensable certain personal characteristics would be in a mate, appearance was fourteenth on the list for men and seventeenth on the list for women (out of eighteen traits). Most important in those days for both men and women were traits such as dependable character, emotional stability, pleasing disposition, and mutual attraction. Women were also particularly concerned that their mate be ambitious and industrious.

The "campus values in mate selection" study was repeated again and again—in 1956, 1967, and 1977 (Henze and Hudson 1969; Hoyt and Hudson 1981; McGinnis 1958). Slowly, over the years, looks have become more important to both men and women. By 1977, appearance was ninth on the list for men and fifteenth on the list for women. Dependable character, emotional stability, and a pleasing disposition were still indispensable in 1977, as in 1939. One interesting reversal is that men now care more about having a good-looking wife than about marrying someone who can cook or clean house; the opposite was true several years ago. (One alternative explanation can be presented for the above results: Instead of looks becoming more important over the years, perhaps people have just become more honest in admitting what really counts.)

What about you? What do you want in a mate? List all the traits you think essential in someone you would marry.

Could Not Live Without These Traits in a Mate:

1. ______________________________________________

2. ______________________________________________

3. ______________________________________________

4. ______________________________________________

5. ______________________________________________

5. __________________________________________________________

How do your requirements compare to other people's? Let's find out. Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin interviewed several hundred couples—causally and steadily dating cou­ples, newlyweds, and couples married up to sixty years (Hatfield et al. 1984; Traupmann and Hatfield 1981). They compiled a list of the characteristics everyone—from dating couples to long marrieds—think are critically important for a relationship. Obviously, although people do care what their partners look like, they care about a lot of other things too. Some examples:

Personal Concerns

1.   Having a good-looking mate.

2.   Having a mate who is friendly and relaxed in social settings.

3.   Having a mate who is intelligent and informed.

Emotional Concerns

4.   Being liked and loved.

5.  Receiving affection—touching, hugging, kissing.

6.   Experiencing a fulfilling sexual relationship.

7.   Having a partner who is faithful.

8.   Having a  mate who  supports your need to be  a free  and independent person.

9.   Contributing time and effort to household work—grocery shop­ping, cleaning, yard work, etc.

10.   Having a mate who is easy to live with.

11.   Having a partner who takes a fair share of the responsibility for making decisions.

Opportunities Gained and Lost

12.  Having the opportunity to partake of the many life experiences that depend on being married—for example, becoming a parent and even grandparent, the chance to be included in "married couple" social events; having someone to count on in old age.

13.   Marriage requires people to give up certain opportunities in order to be in this relationship. The opportunities could have been other mates, a career, travel, etc. Having a mate who makes the sacrifice worth it.

Now that we have reviewed some of the things people want from love (and have found out they want good looks and everything else), we can proceed to a more unsettling question: What is realistic to expect from love?


In A New look at Love, Elaine Hatfield made what seemed to her an obvious statement: Marriage, like life, requires compromise. You can get many of the things you want, but not everything. Soon after the book appeared, she received dozens of letters from lovers furious that she suggested they might not get all they hoped from love. The lovers angrily argued that, not only did they want it all, but they refused to settle for anything less. In fact, a few lovers insisted they already had it all.

It is easy, of course, to see why people long to believe that "love conquers all." Our yearning for unconditional, totally fulfilling love is primitive. We would all like to believe that, even if we lost our looks, openly expressed our most unacceptable feelings, or refused to work, our lovers, family, and friends would continue to care for us. The accumulating evidence, however, forces us to be more realistic (see Hatfield et al. 1984; Hatfield and Walster 1978). Here is the reality:

•  Although we can not get everything we want, we can get many of the things we long for.

•  Marriage is to give and take—the more we are able and willing to give another, the more we expect to get, and do actually get, in return.

•  Men and women who think they can give and give with no thought of return are deceiving themselves. Those who expect

such selfless love from their partners most assuredly are deceiving themselves.

• Men and women are profoundly concerned with equity and fair­ness. Considerations of equity influence who we marry, how happy we are in our marriages, and how stable our marriages will be.

Let us review the evidence for the above statements:

Finding the Mate You "Deserve"

Marriage counselors often act as if everyone should hold out for the best in marriage. For example, Herter (1974) warns young men to use "logic and common sense" in choosing a wife. He advises them to make sure their wife possesses the following basic assets. She should:

1.   Be beautiful.

2.   Be younger than you.

3.   Be shorter than you.

4.   Be the same religion.

5.   Be the same race.

6.   Be willing to pretend to be equally intelligent or less intelligent than you.

7.   Be a virgin at the time you meet.

8.   Be willing to live with you for a year before marriage to see if things work out.

9.   Be willing to let you participate in the sports you like.

10.   Be tolerant of the work you do; be tolerant of your ambitions and abilities.

11.   Be willing to have as many sons as you want.

12.   Be sexually desirable.

13.   Be free from diabetes.

14.   Not be a regular drinker.

15.   Have not used marijuana, LSD, or similar drugs.

16.   Not have a family history of insanity.

17.   Have large breasts.

18.   Have consent of both parents.

19.   Be a good cook.

20.   Be a good sewer.

21.   Not be a complainer or arguer.

22.   Be clean and neat.

23.   Not be overweight.

24.   Not snore.

"Logic and common sense," says Herter. Ann Landers (1975) gives similar advice when counseling women about how to choose a husband.

Unfortunately, such "advice" is wildly impractical. Of course, Every­man and Everywoman desires perfection. Unfortunately, they are not very likely to get it. "When I was a young man," runs the old joke, "I vowed never to marry until I found the perfect woman. Well, I found her—but alas, she was waiting for the perfect man" (composer Robert Schumann, cited in Baron and Byrne 1983).

Many social psychologists have argued that equity considerations are important determinants of who marries whom. Peter Blau (1964), for example, argues that people end up with the mates they deserve. People must make potential lovers "offers they can't refuse." The most desirable suitors attract the most desirable mates; the rest must settle for the "leftovers." Market principles ensure that everyone ends up with the mates they deserve.

Erving Goffman (1952) puts the matter even more succinctly. He notes, "A proposal of marriage in our society tends to be a way in which a man sums up his social attributes and suggests to a woman that hers are not so much better as to preclude a merger ... in these matters." (p. 456).

There is considerable evidence that people do generally end up with mates about as attractive as they are, and who have about as much to offer overall as they do.

Matching: Married Look-Alikes

Earlier in this chapter, we described how couples matched in attrac­tiveness are more likely to find their way to the altar than are mis­matched couples. Matched couples are also most likely to stay together long enough to celebrate their silver and golden anniversaries.

Studies in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan found that matched couples are more likely to get married and stay married than mismatched couples (Cavior and Boblett 1972; White 1980b). In one study, for example, several New England couples, ranging in age from twenty-eight to fifty-nine, agreed to participate in a study in exchange for a tour of a historical house (Murstein and Christy 1976). The authors assessed men and women's attractiveness in three ways: self-ratings, men and women rated their own looks; spouse ratings; and objective ratings, five judges rated photographs of the husbands and wives. The authors found that the more attractive the husband, the more attractive the wife—regardless of how looks were measured (sim­ilar results were secured by Price and Vandenberg 1979).

A similar study was conducted with elderly couples ranging in age from sixty-four to eighty-six in a small west coast town. A high degree

Figure 5.4. Married look-alikes. Reprinted with permission of Globe Photos, Inc.

of matching was found for the mates' looks when their appearance was rated by outside judges (Peterson and Miller 1980).

Matching in size also seems to be important. Two recent investi­gators, Maria Watkins and Arlen Price, surveyed 215 couples married in the San Francisco area in 1974 or 1975. Several tests were admin­istered to the husbands and wives, including vocabulary and reasoning tests, and physical measurements. Then in 1982, the researchers were able to track down 167 of the original 215 couples. Of those couples, 52 had broken up and 111 couples were still together in 1982. What distinguished those who had broken up from those who remained together? Similarity on physical traits, no less. Those couples who remained together were more likely to be similar on height, weight, forearm length, and shoe size! It was found that similarity on physical attributes was even more important than similarity on education and vocabulary. (Reported in Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1983, page 3/section 6.)

The tendency for look alikes to marry is so strong that as a parlor game, you can pick out who belongs to whom . . . and be pretty sure you'll be right. In one study (Terry & Macklin, 1977), men and women were given a series of photographs. Each set of photographs consisted of one man and four women. Which of the four women was the man's

wife? Men and women turned out to be surprisingly good at spotting her. They were right about 60% of the time. (By chance, they should have hit the mark only 25% of the time.) How did they do it? Men claimed they assumed each man was married to the most beautiful of the four women! (Every man a winner!) Women tended to assume like marries like. They were, of course, right.

Matching: More Complex Cases

Of course, couples can be "well matched" in a variety of ways. For example, Jacqueline Kennedy chose Aristotle Onassis, who was not particularly good looking . . . but was unusually bright, charming . . . and rich. We probably all know of similar cases closer to home.

Murstein et al. (1974) provide a description of the way such complex matching operates:

A handsome man is seen with a woman of mediocre attractiveness. "I wonder what he sees in her?" may be the quizzical question of a by­stander. Quite possibly, she possesses compensating qualities such as greater intelligence, interpersonal competence, and wealth than he, of which the bystander knows nothing. . . .

Another case of compensatory exchange might be indicated if an aged statesman proposed marriage to a young beautiful woman. He would probably be trading his prestige and power for her physical at­tractiveness and youth, (pp. 3-4)

The evidence supports the contention that people do engage in such complicated balancing and counterbalancing when selecting mates.



"My face is my fortune," said the pretty maid in the nursery rhyme, by which she meant that her pretty face would enable her to get a husband—the prettier the face, the richer the husband. The pretti­est faces in our society angle for the biggest fortunes. Why else is the office beauty the front office secretary? Why else are airline steward­esses, models and actresses chosen solely for their looks? Why, if not to put them in the most visible places in the market so that the richest men can see and buy them? Men have so structured our society that the most beautiful women, like all other valuable property, can go to the highest bidder. (Stannard 1971, 123)

Evidence does indicate that a woman's face is her fortune. For example, in the 1930s in Oakland, California, educators observed fifth-

and sixth-grade girls as they played on the school playgrounds. They rated each girl's facial beauty, coloring, figure, sex appeal, and grooming. Years later, sociologist Glen Elder (1969) tracked down these girls to find out what had become of them. He found that the more beautiful the preadolescent the better she had done. The beautiful girls apparently used their beauty to capture mates whose social promise and subsequent social power far exceeded their own. (Additional support for Elder's contention comes from Holmes and Hatch [1938]; Taylor and Glenn [1976]; and Udry [1977].)

Can a man also trade looks for a rich spouse? In a recent study (Udry and Eckland 1982), 1300 men and women were interviewed fifteen years after graduating from high school. The investigators were interested in whether the men's and women's attractiveness at the time they graduated from high school (as judged from their yearbook pictures) would be related to their future success. Once again, it was documented that attractiveness helps women find a high-status husband. The more attractive a woman was in high school, the more educated and rich her eventual husband was. Attractive men, on the other hand, did not seem to use their attractiveness to marry an educated, high-status woman. In fact, the more attractive the men, the less educated their wives! Why? The researchers write:

Perhaps being good looking gives a man so many heterosexual opportu­nities that he loses sight of other objectives and marries at an earlier age, thereby probably marrying a younger woman than the less good looking man, and therefore a woman with less education, (pp. 7-8)

This study, unlike some others, found that good looks do not always help men. Attractive men were less educated and had lower-status jobs than did less attractive men.

The investigators also examined whether attractive versus unat­tractive men and women differ in their chances of getting married. For men, attractiveness did not seem to matter. Handsome men and ugly ones were equally likely to be married. Beauty was critically important for women, however. The most beautiful women were ten times more likely to have marched up to the altar than were homely ones.

A Loving Nature + Sacrifice + Money

Remember the Psychology Today interview we described in chapter 1 (Berscheid, Hatfield [Walster] and Bohrnstedt 1973)? In addition to asking the readers how they felt about their looks, we also asked how they felt about their most intimate affairs. Who, we asked, is the best-looking—you or your partner?

"Describe your partner's appearance":

•  Much more attractive than I.

•  Slightly more attractive than I.

•  As attractive as I.

•  Slightly less attractive than I.

•  Much less attractive than I.

We predicted that if couples were mismatched in looks there would be a compensating mismatch in other areas. We were right. The men and women who were better-looking than their spouses admitted their partner's assets balanced things out. For example, they said their mates were unusually loving or self-sacrificing, or rich. Those who admitted they were not as good-looking as their partners insisted that they were, however, unusually loving or self-sacrificing, or rich.

Other evidence also suggests that men and women know attrac­tiveness can be used to bargain for other "luxuries in life." One investigator (Dermer 1973) found that, the more attractive the woman, the longer the vacations she expected to take after she married and the fewer hours she expected to have to work to supplement her husband's income.

Recently, freelance writer Pat Monthei (1981) gave ordinary women advice on how to catch a good-looking man:

I've never been a 10. As a matter of fact, I've been a 6 all my life. Despite my numerical disadvantage, every meaningful relationship (in my many years of using such words) has been spent with someone of a higher denomination. If there's an Adonis within my working sphere, I'll find him. Correct that, we'll find each other.

. .  . How does the average woman, like myself and a million other 6's, some 5's and a few 4's wind up with the perfect men. It's easy, if you follow a few basic rules, (p. 44)

The author then describes how you flatter him, feed him, and give him sex—basically, give him everything he wants. Such is the way an average-looking woman can get and keep a "10" man.

Dear Abby: Our 19-year-old daughter Caroline has started going with a guy named Angelo. He never takes her anyplace. He just comes over every night to watch television and wear out our sofa .  . . What should I do?

Kitchen Sitter

Dear Sitter: Send me a picture of Caroline and I'll tell you what to do.

(Van Buren 1981, 181)

Ironically, sometimes the delicate balance of marriage means losing one's attractiveness. Money, status, a loving nature, and sacrifice can buy the opportunity to "let oneself go." The man who toils sixty hours a week for the family paycheck may feel he has the right to get a "beergut." Consider the opinion of one middle-aged woman from THE GROUP:

I weigh over 200 pounds, but I don't care. I'm entitled to look the way I do. I'm the one who brings home the paycheck—and it's a damn good paycheck. My husband doesn't deserve a beautiful wife, too! It sort of evens it all up, if you know what I mean.

Apparently, then, we can use our assets either to attract partners with exactly the same assets or to attract partners possessing quite different assets. In general, in long-term relationships people attempt to work out a delicate compromise between what they give and what they get.


What happens when people beat the odds? When, through some fluke, they end up with mates clearly superior (or inferior) to themselves? What happens when the princess marries the frog, kisses him, and discovers he really is only a frog after all? We will discuss three aspects of the relationship between the princess and the frog: (1) happiness; (2) sex; and (3) power.

The Princess and the Frog Do Not Live Happily Ever After

In mismatched relationships, participants generally become increasingly dissatisfied. It is obvious, of course, why the princess would be dis­satisfied. She can never really forget she could have married a real prince. But, the "lucky" frog might have cause for unhappiness too. He is confronted with a wrenching dilemma. On the one hand, he is eager to keep the princess's love. After all, what are his chances of fooling a princess a second time? On the other hand, he is painfully aware that the princess has little reason to stay with him. He may feel a little guilty that he took the princess away from what she could have had.

Recently, we tested the notion that inequitable affairs are the un-happiest love affairs (Traupmann and Hatfield 1981). We interviewed

more than six-hundred men and women—dating couples, couples living together, newlyweds, and older couples married for forty, fifty, or sixty years. Our first step was to find out if the couples' relationships were fair and equitable. We asked:

Considering what you put into your relationship, compared to what you get out of it and what your partner puts in compared to what he (she) gets out of it, how does your relationship "stack up":

—3 My partner is getting a much better deal.

-2 My partner is getting a somewhat better deal.

-1 My partner is getting a slightly better deal. 0 We are both getting an equal deal.

+ 1 I am getting a slightly better deal.

+2 I am getting a somewhat better deal.

+3 I am getting a much better deal.

From these answers, we could easily calculate whether men and women felt they were getting more than they deserved, less than they deserved, or if things were "just right."

We found that couples in fair and equitable relationships were more content and happy than other couples. Men and women who admitted they were getting far more than they really deserved were uneasy. They were less content, less happy, and felt a lot more guilty than their peers. Apparently, an "embarrassment of riches" is just that— painfully embarrassing. Of course, those men and women who felt they were getting far less than they deserved were in even worse shape— they were a lot less content, a lot less happy, and a lot angrier than were their peers [see Berscheid et al. 1972; Hatfield, Walster, and Traupmann 1979; Matthews and Clark 1982; Schafer and Keith 1980; Sprecher 1980; Traupmann, Hatfield, and Sprecher 1981; Traupmann, Hatfield, and Wexler 1983; Traupmann, Peterson, Utne, and Hatfield 1981).

Perhaps the strongest proponents of the equity perspective have been family therapists. For example, Sager (1976) observes how im­portant a contract is to marriage and notes the discontent that occurs when equity breaks down.

In work with marital couples and families, the concept of individual marriage contracts has proven extremely useful. .  .  . The term individual contract refers to a person's expressed and unexpressed, conscious and beyond awareness, concepts of his obligations within the marital rela­tionship, and to the benefits he expects to derive from marriage in gen­eral and from his spouse in particular. But what must be emphasized above all is the reciprocal aspect of the contract: what each partner ex­pects to give and what he expects to receive from his spouse in ex­change are crucial. Contracts deal with every conceivable aspect of fam­ily life: relationships with friends, achievements, power, sex, leisure time,

money, children, etc. ... It is most important to realize that, while each spouse may be aware of his own needs and wishes on some level of awareness, he does not usually realize that his attempts to fulfill the partner's needs are based on the covert assumption that his own wishes will thereby be fulfilled. When significant aspects of the contract cannot be fulfilled, as is inevitable, and especially when these lie beyond his own awareness, the disappointed partner may react with rage, injury, depression, or withdrawal, and provoke marital discord by acting as though a real agreement had been broken, (pp. 4-5)

Theorists from a variety of other areas agree that equity considerations are critically important in intimate relations (see, for example, Bernard 1964; Blau 1964; Lederer and Jackson 1968; McCall 1966; Patterson 1971; Scanzoni 1972 and Storer 1966).

Sex in Equitable Versus Inequitable Relationships

"I Have a Headache"

I have a headache.

We did it last month.

I just brushed my teeth.

I have to finish War and Peace first.

We're out of Kleenex.

After my nap.

I just had a shower and I don't want to get all sweaty.

My nail polish is still wet.

I can't light your fire without a blowtorch.

The cat feels left out.

I don't need to lose anymore weight.

The honeymoon is over.

I've got a sink full of dirty dishes.

Do you have an appointment?

Let's not and say we did!

—(from the poster, "101 Reasons Not to Have Sex Tonight," 1981 R-R Produc­tions Ltd., New York, New York)

Theorists have observed that couples' dissatisfaction with mis­matched relationships can be manifested in yet another way—by re­fusing to get intimate. This refusal makes sense. If couples feel fairly treated, if they love each other, and if they feel comfortable with one another, then sex should go well. On the other hand, if couples feel trapped in unjust relationships, hate one another, and feel uncomfortable in one another's presence, their deep-seated resentment or guilt may corrode their sexual encounters (see Barbach 1975; Berne 1964; Heiman, LoPiccolo, and LoPiccolo 1976; Hunt 1974; Kaplan 1974; Kinsey, Pom-eroy, and Martin 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, and Gebhard 1953;

Figure 5.5.    Theorists agree that equity considerations are critically impor­tant. © 1959 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Masters and Johnson 1966, 1970, 1976; Safilios-Rothschild 1977; 231-bergeld 1978).

In our research, we have found that couples usually have the best sex when they feel fairly treated [Hatfield et al. 1979, 1982). Equitably treated men and women are generally most satisfied with their sexual relations. They also feel more loving and close (versus angry and distant) after sex than do other couples. Those who have a sneaky suspicion they may be getting more than they deserve from their marriages are generally slightly uncomfortable about sex; those who are certain they are getting less than they deserve feel quite uncomfortable (similar results were secured by Matthews and Clark 1982). (One member of THE GROUP observed he no longer was willing to have sexual relations with his wife. "It just wasn't fair," he observed. Over the years, he had kept his shape and had acquired prestige and wealth as well. What had she acquired?—an extra one hundred pounds.)

Some investigators have looked simply at how the partner's at­tractiveness affects the quality of sex. In a recent, large-scale study, sociologists Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz collected information from thousands of couples from all over the country. The couples represented several different intimate lifestyles—married couples, co-habitors, gay couples, and lesbian couples. It was found that when men

and women thought their partners were attractive, they had a better sex life. Having a physically attractive partner was particularly important for cohabitors. Lesbian couples, on the other hand, managed to be relatively unaffeted by conventional standards of beauty (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983).

The Power of What Might Have Been

Something else affects mismatched relationships. The princess starts to remember the attention she used to get from the prince (or two or three) she could have married. How could she ever have married a frog? The frog begins to wonder too.

Social psychologists Thibaut and Kelley (1965) have argued that every relationship is embedded in a network of other relationships— both actual and potential. Whether we are happy with our marriage and want to remain in it depends on the types of relationships we have experienced in the past and on the types of relationships we think are out there awaiting us. Thibaut & Kelley label the first our Comparison Level (CL) and the second our Comparison Level for Alternatives (CL Alt.). These "comparison levels" determine how satisfied we are with our present relationships.


Zsa Zsa Gabor compares her eighth husband with her seventh, sixth, fifth, ... on down to the first. John Derek compares Bo Derek with Ursula Andress and Linda Evans. If these individuals recall that things were better with their first spouse than they are now, they may become discontent. We know of an elderly woman who reentered the dating marketplace after her husband died. She was a gorgeous woman before her marriage. She had been the center of attention with men. She could pick and choose among the most handsome and finest men, and did— her husband. When she returned to the dating market again at seventy-two, she was bitterly disappointed. Once, she had the best. Now, handsome young men would not look at her. Even men her own age wanted younger women. The only men interested in her were "old and decrepit." She could not help comparing what had been with what was, and found that wanting. As a consequence, she had not yet found happiness in autumn love. So, if the princess's love affair with the frog is her first intimacy, she is more likely to be content than if she has come straight from the arms of a prince.


Another comparison level that effects our present relationships is the "comparison level for alternatives." Here, we compare our present relationship to ones we perceive are obtainable now, if only. . . . This CL Alt. determines whether or not we stay in the present relationship. If our marriage seems less rewarding than the competition, we may pack our bags. To the arms of the more desirable partner we want to flee. Sometimes, people do leave and never return to their partners. Sometimes, they are fickle—divorce is costly, and what about the children? Back they come (from the driveway) and unpack their bags to try the relationship again.

If one partner has greater access to alternative relationships, this opportunity can affect the power dynamics in the relationship. The person with greater opportunities has more power. Usually, as we have demonstrated in earlier chapters, the more attractive person has greater opportunities—physical attractiveness equals power.

Evidence exists to support these assertions. In a study of 231 dating couples, Anne Peplau (1979) found that, if one partner was more attractive, he/she was also likely to have more say in the relationship. In other words, those with more dating alternatives tended to have greater power, and, as we might expect, attractive people were the ones with more alternatives. White (1980a&b) also found that, among casual and serious daters, the more attractive partners had more opposite sex friends.

Sociologist Willard Waller (1938) called the consequence of this imbalance the "principle of least interest." The person least interested in the relationship has greater control in the relationship. The good-looking partner often has the least interest, primarily because he/she has more opportunities to start over with someone else. One young woman we interviewed put it this way, "I wouldn't go out with someone too attractive because he would have too much power in the relationship. To keep his interest, I would have to do things his way, and who wants to sacrifice all that?"

This state of affairs can thus be very unsettling, particularly for the less desirable partner who is precariously balanced in a state of un­certainty and self-sacrifice.


What happens when a couple is seriously mismatched? Do they simply "grin and bear it"? Rarely. Couples who discover their marriages are precariously balanced remedy the situation in a couple of different ways:

•  Some couples face the facts and work to change things. They work out a more acceptable give and take. The partner who has been taking advantage of the other begins to bend a little. The "martyr" learns to speak up a little more and to demand more.

•  Some couples stay stuck. They do not change their behavior— but they do change their own and others' perceptions. They try to reassure themselves, their mates, and their friends (plus the mirror) that the situation is really fairer than it seems.

Setting Things Right

In most love affairs, relationships start out right. Lovers end up with mates who, if not their ideal, at least seem to be the best they can hope for. But, over time, the marital balance inevitably shifts. The beautiful new bride, so delighted with her new husband, may later find this particular husband not at all what she had in mind. How did she know he would drop out of medical school? The grossly overweight man may suddenly lose 120 pounds through diet and jogging, only to discover he is now much less tolerant of his wife's shortcomings. What happens when the marital balance suddenly goes askew? For one thing, observers have noticed, participants usually move with surprising swift­ness to "set things right."

Psychologist Gerald Patterson (1971) observed, "There is an odd kind of equity which holds when people interact with each other. In effect, we get what we give, both in amount and in kind. Each of us seems to have his own bookkeeping system for love, and for pain. Over time, the books are balanced." (p. 26).

There is considerable anecdotal evidence that, when couples become mismatched, they must do something to "fine tune" their relationships (Angell 1936; Cayan 1959; Komarovsky 1971). For example, it has been discovered that, often, when an individual's looks change drastically, trouble erupts at home. In an article in Weight Watchers magazine (Palmer 1974), Dr. Alfred Jones warned readers that:

Marriage, like all relationships, is a balance. When one partner is over­weight, that fact has been considered, perhaps unconsciously, in setting up the balance. Obviously, when you remove the obesity, you upset the balance. The relationship shifts and takes on a different complexion, (p. 50)

Further, Marjorie Palmer (1974) adds, once excess weight is gone,

"Gone are . . . the attempts to buy love through acquiescence and the overweight's traditional don't-make-waves-they-throw-you-out policy. In their place comes new pride, an awareness of rights and a tendency to

speak up for those rights" (p. 23). The following case study illustrates her point:

Every year for 10 years, Bob and Maire Coleman [fictional names] went to the same place for vacation—a secluded cabin in the woods of north­ern Minnesota. Bob Coleman loved the cabin and the quiet, restful times he spent there. ... In the early years of their marriage, it had occurred to him that the cabin didn't offer much change of pace for his wife. Marie weighed over 190 and all her days were spent in semi-seclusion. At home, she stayed in their apartment and cooked and cleaned, and at the cabin she did more or less the same thing. But she loved the North Woods as much as he.

Then one day Marie decided to do something about her weight. In six months she'd lost 65 pounds and looked pretty terrific, all curves and interesting angles where once there'd been only mounds of flesh. She felt better, too, more energetic and self-confident. For the first time in more years than she cared to remember, Marie was proud of her looks—and of herself.

Bob was proud of her, too. He'd forgotten how pretty she was under all that fat. He felt as if the bride of his youth had been returned to him and he sometimes smiled to himself because he, an old married man, was so excited by the wife he'd had for more than a decade. There was only one thing wrong: When it came time to plan their next vacation, Marie didn't want to go up to the cabin. She said she'd rather go to a resort this year. At long last, she pointed out to Bob that he might be on vacation while they were at the cabin, but for her it meant house­work, running after kids and "business as usual." This year she wanted to relax and be waited on, too.

Bob was very disappointed, not only because he'd miss his cabin but also because of Marie's attitude. In the past, she'd gone along with his suggestions, but she was being downright stubborn about this vacation. He couldn't understand what had come over her.

What had come over Marie was a healthy and long-repressed interest in herself and her own happiness. She had never enjoyed her vacations at the cabin, but then, she never enjoyed much of anything when she was fat. One place was as good as the next, as long as she could hide her bulk. Now that she was thin, she felt capable of—and entitled to—a real vacation. Hiding in the cabin, cooking for Bob and the kids, wasn't good enough anymore. (Palmer 1974, 22-23)

Convincing Yourself What Isn't Is, and What Is Isn't

Of course, couples sometimes find it easier to change their minds than to change their behavior. Sometimes, couples threatened by the dis­covery that their relationship is precariously balanced prefer to close their eyes to the problem and to reassure themselves that, "Really,

everything is fine, just fine." They might rely on several rationalizations: "An extra 25 pounds just makes me look voluptuous, doesn't it honey?"

In intimate relationships, it is fairly easy to believe what you want to believe. Love relationships are complex. Even in the best of circum­stances, people often find it extremely difficult to decide what is fair. The variety of resources that can be exchanged in the intimate rela­tionship is tremendous. Look back at the traits desired in companions listed earlier in this chapter. With so much being exchanged, it is easy to become confused about exactly what is fair. Should having high intellect be worth less, about the same, or more than physical ap­pearance? We can argue endlessly with ourselves: Maybe he did let himself go, but he is faithful and maybe that should count for something. And so on. We realign just what is important until things seem a little fairer.

If couples complicate the question still further by trying to decide whether or not their marriages will work out in the end, equity cal­culations become virtually impossible. Thus, when confronted with the fact that the balance of their marriage has changed, some partners find it easiest to try to convince themselves that, eventually, the situation will somehow balance out again.

Calling It Quits

If a relationship becomes impossibly one-sided, the couples are generally tempted to sever the alliance. Most people, however, feel that marriage should last forever; "Till death do us part" is still the cultural ideal. In addition to the moral and religious issues, there are very practical costs to divorce. Divorce is costly in emotional and financial terms. When a married couple separates, parents and friends are stunned, close friends stop calling, one of the parents often loses custody of the children, and careers may fall apart (see Bohannan 1971; Hunt and Hunt 1977; or Napolitane and Pellegrino 1977). So, when married men and women, after trying to right their marriage, ruefully concede failure, they may first respond by withdrawing psychologically from the situa­tion—by burying themselves in their work or by giving their all to the children, friends, or backgammon. Yet, if a marital relationship is unbalanced enough, for long enough, couples do sometimes opt for separation or divorce. Currently, over 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce (Mariman, Jamieson, and Floyd 1982).

There is evidence that equitable marriages are more solid and long-term than inequitable ones. Recently, we interviewed 118 newly weds both immediately after their marriages and a year later (Utne, Hatfield, Traupmann, and Greenberger, 1984). We found that, even a few weeks after their marriages, couples who felt equitably treated in their rela-

tionships were more secure about their marriages. Men and women who felt they were getting far less than they deserved from their marriages (and who had every reason to wish something better might come along) were naturally quite pessimistic about the future of the relationship; but, so were those men and women who knew they were getting far more than they deserved from their marriages and thus had every reason to hope the relationship would last. They, too, had to admit their affairs were fairly shaky (see also, Hatfield et al., in press).

"She's Not Really Cheatin'; She's Just Gettin' Even."*

Equitable marriages may be stable marriages for yet another reason. In such marriages, couples are reluctant to risk having affairs. On the other hand, men and women who feel they are not being fairly treated in their marriage are especially likely to explore a fleeting, or more permanent, love affair (Hatfield, Traupmann and Walster, 1979).

Elaine Hatfield and Richard Rapson work as family therapists at King Kalakua Clinic in Honolulu. Most family therapists feel that one affair is generally the way one of the partners tries to desperately communicate with his or her mate that something is wrong in the marriage. Men, who can not win an argument with their spouse, "get even" by having an affair. Their partners have affairs to retaliate. To us, the affair always seems to have more to do with the marriage than with the fact that the new partner is irresistable.

To test the notion that equitable relationships would be "affair proof," we asked Psychology Today readers to express their feelings about dating, living together, or being married (Hatfield, Traupmann, and Walster, 1979). We asked readers two questions about their extra­marital affairs: (1) How soon after they were married did they have their first affair? and (2) How many extramarital affairs had they had? We found that equitably treated and overbenefited men and women were very reluctant to experiment with extramarital sex. On the average, they were married twelve to fifteen years before they took a chance on getting involved with anyone else. On the other hand, men and women who felt cheated in their marriages began "cheating" outside their marriages far earlier—approximately six to eight years after mar­riage. Similarly, the overbenefited had the fewest extramaterial en­counters (zero to one). Equitably treated men and women had a few more, and the deprived had the most extramarital liaisons of all (one to three).

Apparently, then, equitable relations are likely to be more stable than inequitable ones. In these cases both partners are motivated to be faithful.

* (Moe Bandy, Country and Western Song)


Equity theory, then, does provide a convenient model for examining romantic and marital relationships. Its principles do seem to determine whom people marry and how the marriage goes—how the partners get along, day-to-day and thereafter, and how likely they are to stay together. (Of course, you can never get all scientists to agree on anything. A few psychologists have argued that equity principles should not be and are not always important in love relationships. For a review of critics' research, see Brunner [1945]; Chadwick-Jones [1976]; and Douvan [1974].)

Chapter 6

Let's Get Physical

In all areas of life, appearance matters. But there is one area in which the body, with all its splendors and flaws, becomes extremely impor­tant—sexual activities. Whether we are passionately kissing a new lover or an old husband, our bodies (and theirs) are the focus.

In this chapter, we will try to answer a series of questions about physical attractiveness and sexuality posed by THE GROUP.

•  Do we think attractive people have different sexual desires and participate in different sexual behaviors than unattractive people?

•  How does sexual arousal affect how attractive we perceive our lovers to be?

•  What are good-looking men and women really like?

•  Are beautiful women and handsome men more sexually active or just the opposite?


• Who arouses the most jealousy—the strikingly good-looking per­son who flirts with our date at a party, or an ugly rival? What if the rival replaces us?


"Does She (He) or Doesn't She (He)?"

We have spent a great deal of time reviewing the stereotypes for attractive people. There are biases in favor of beautiful people in the schools, in the justice system, in the helping professions, and in the dating and marriage markets. But what happens when we move the setting to the bedroom? What kinds of stereotyping can we expect to find there? Do most people assume attractive people are more (or less) "sexy"? Actually, perhaps this dearth of research is not so surprising, for sex has traditionally been a taboo topic. In fact, during the 1920s, a professor at the University of Minnesota was fired because he approved a questionnaire on sex. (Clear evidence of the researcher's depravity was provided by the fact that he had asked college students such personal questions as, "Have you ever blown into the ear of a person of the opposite sex in order to arouse their passion?")

In an early study, Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues (Dion, Ber-scheid, and Hatfield [Walster] 1972) asked men and women what they thought attractive versus unattractive people were like. What were their personalities like? What kinds of lives could they expect to have? Quietly sprinkled in among the sixty-five questions were two items on sex­uality—how "sexually warm or cold" and how "sexually responsive or unresponsive" did these people seem to be? Most of those participating in this study assumed good-looking people would be unusually warm and responsive sexually.

In another recent study (Tanke 1982), men from two universities (the University of Minnesota and the University of Santa Clara in California) were given a biographical information sheet on a woman college student. Included in the information sheet was either an attractive photograph, an unattractive photograph, or no photograph. The men were asked to give their first impressions of the woman. A few items asked about sexuality. Interestingly, it was found that of all the trait ratings, the sexuality items were the most affected by appearances. Attractive women were perceived to be more sexually warm, exciting, and permissive than unattractive women. (Women with no photograph were intermediate between attractive and unattractive women on these dimensions.)

Recently, Susan Sprecher and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin (Smith, Sprecher, and DeLamater 1983a) decided to delve into people's fantasies about good-looking versus plain-looking men and women's sex lives. They asked men and women to look at some photographs of striking versus plain men and women and to guess what they might be like sexually. Just for fun, you may want to rate yourself on the items used in the study (see Table 6.1).

The authors found that people were especially likely to see attractive men and women as sexually vigorous. For example, the attractive (in contrast to the unattractive) were expected to have a high sex drive, to be sexually active, to prefer variety in sex, to prefer experimental sex, to be sexually satisfied, to be sexually permissive, to enjoy sex, and to prefer several sexual relationships. Respondents also assumed attractive people would be more likely to play a dominant role in sex activities, to be sexually exciting, to be bold in sex, and to disclose

TABLE 6.1    Sexual Traits

source: Smith Speecher, and DeLamater, 1983a.

their sexuality to others. People perceived attractive men to be especially high on all these dimensions.

"Do They or Don't They?"

Of course, it takes two to tangle—two to engate in sexual relations. Throughout this book, we have seen that people form immediate impressions of individuals based upon physical characteristics. They are equally swift to form impressions about pairs, to speculate about ro­mantically entwined couples. "I wonder how happy they are with each other?" "I wonder what they fight about?" "I wonder what kind of sex life they have?" "Are they into anything kinky?" If there are not many actual facts for answering such questions, the man and women's visible characteristics—their apparent ages and what they look like— may seem to be important clues. When considering the pair, however, there are two sets of characteristics involved—the man's and the wom­an's. Both individuals could be very attractive, both very unattractive, or they could be strikingly mismatched.

Imagine some of the couples you know—your parents, your best friends, your professor and his live-in girlfriend. Imagine what their sex lives must be like. Do the couples' looks shape your guesses? Do you assume that the cute young couple is shy about sex, or that they are having an intensely passionate affair? Is it somewhat easier to imagine an older couple having an active sex life if they are good-looking than if they are old and rickety? If the couple is mismatched in attractiveness, do you assume their sex life is also a little skewed?


Are perceptions of the sexuality of those to whom we are closest—our parents, mates, children—affected by their looks? Nobody knows for sure, but our best bet would be that they are not.

It is very hard for most people to imagine that those they love most of all (good-looking or not) are sexually active. No matter how attractive parents are, many people have difficulty believing they will­ingly engage in sex. In 1977, researchers asked 646 students at a large, midwestern university what kinds of sex lives they thought their parents had (Pocs, Godow, Tolone, and Walsh 1977). Although more than 90 percent said their parents were happily married and still in love, they did not think their parents had sex very often. Over one-half the students thought their parents had intercourse once a month or less; about one-fourth of the sons and daughters believed their parents never had intercourse or had it less than once a year. Only 4 percent thought

High Sex Drive








Low Sex Drive

Sexually active








Sexually inactive

Prefers routine in sex








Prefers variety in sex

Plays   submissive   role in sex








Plays  dominant  role in sex

Prefers   experimental sex








Prefers   conventional sex

Sexually frustrated








Sexually satisfied

Gentle in sex








Rough in sex

Sexually exciting








Sexually unexciting

Bold in sex








Shy in sex

Unresponsive to needs of sexual partner








Responsive  to  needs of sexual partner

Sexually permissive








Sexually unpermissive

Enjoys sex








Doesn't enjoy sex

Prefers   several   sexual relationships








Prefers   one   lifetime sexual relationship

Discloses everything to others   about   own sexuality








Discloses  nothing  to others   about   own sexuality

their parents might have sexual intercourse three to four times a week, and no one said more than four times a week. Typical of the feelings of these daughters and sons is a statement made by one young woman: "When I was 16, my 40-year-old mother shocked me one day by announcing that she was pregnant. I knew the facts of life and all, but somehow I just didn't think of my mother as doing that" (reported in Pocs, Godow, Tolone, and Watsh 1977).

These perceptions can be compared to the available statistics on the sex lives of men and women of the same age group as the students' parents. Large-scale surveys on people's sex lives, such as those con­ducted by Alfred C. Kinsey (see Kinsey et al. 1948, 1953), report that married adults between the ages of forty and fifty have marital sexual intercourse about seven times a month, on the average.

Sons and daughters were also inaccurate about their parents' pre­marital and extramarital sex, oral-genital sex, and masturbation (see Table 6.2). In brief, they underestimated what their parents were prob­ably doing. There was a slight tendency for daughters to be even more conservative in their estimates than sons.

Some of the students were even upset that they had been asked about their parents' sexuality. Nearly 20 percent ignored the questions about masturbation. A few students wrote comments in the margins of the questionnaire: "This questionnaire stinks." "Whoever thinks about their parents' sexual relations, except perverts?" "What stupid-ass person made up these questions?"

We would speculate that children probably view their parents as asexual regardless of their attractiveness. We have no more than an­ecdotal data on the linkage between parental attractiveness and off­springs' perceptions of their sexuality. We suspect sex is seen as more or less taboo, regardless of looks, however.

Parents may have equal trouble envisioning their children engaged in sexual activity. Again, we suspect that parents' estimates about their children's sexuality are not linked to the children's attractiveness. Again, however, we have no data to support such speculations.

Perceptions of Casual Acquaintances

There is, however, evidence that our impressions of less intimate couples' (especially strangers') sexuality may well be influenced by how they look. In another study Susan Sprecher conducted with her colleagues (Smith, Sprecher, and DeLamater 1983b), she examined how sexually active couples were perceived to be. Men and women viewed pictures of a man and woman who had been steadily dating for about six months. (In truth, the pictures were randomly matched.) Sometimes

TABLE 6.2    The Beliefs vs. The Reality






















Premarital petting





Premarital sex