Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From the archive -- More Beauty

Tyler Cowen links to an excellent summary of much of the psych lit on beauty. The evidence it discusses provide foundation to the hypothesis that beauty is an important source of social capital/social skills. People (starting at infancy and even including mother's responses to their children) are drawn to attractive people. This gives pretty people an advantage in social markets. Being treated differently in social situations throughout life almost certainly changes the social skills these individuals develop.

Three things in the article stood out to me. First, psychologists have found that "moms of attractive first-born infants were more attentive and affectionate than moms of less attractive first-borns," that "attractiveness is significantly related to social acceptance and popularity for girls throughout the entire school year. For boys, low attractiveness is associated with rejection by peers. Moreover, the likelihood that unattractive boys would be rejected increased, not decreased, as the school year progressed and as the boys became better acquainted." (They imply that unattractiveness directly causes this effect, but it could be that unattractiveness is correlated with less friendly personalities (see lack of maternal attention above) and that is why this pattern is observed.)

Second, they show that infants respond to attractiveness. They show, "Babies look longer at adult-judged attractive faces than at unattractive faces, regardless of whether the face is male or female, white or black, adult or infant" and "The infants more frequently avoided the stranger when she was unattractive than when she was attractive, and they showed more negative emotion and distress in the unattractive than in the attractive condition. Furthermore, boys (but not girls) approached the female stranger more often in the attractive than in the unattractive condition, perhaps foreshadowing the types of interactions that may later occur at parties and other social situations when the boys are older!"

Finally, who is pretty? Well, people who look average. Not people who are average within the attractiveness distribution, but rather people whose faces resemble a composite of lots of faces.

This reminds me of an ongoing discussion I had during high school with some friends of mine. We noticed that most of the hot girls we knew both from our own school and from others around the area, happened to come from wealthier families. The first point we came up with was fairly obvious. Girls from rich families have more money to spend on things that "enhance" beauty (i.e. buying more expensive clothing, spending more money on hairstyling, make-up and nails, and fake and bake spray tanning). Well, as everyone knows there is only so much one can do to enhance their beauty. There had to be more to the story. I came up with the idea that maybe an attractive woman is always more interested in wealthy men (I apologize for the blatant stereotype), and thus girls from rich families are generally more attractive because of the fact that their good looking mothers married wealthy men. I still believe this is true to some degree, but assuming this cycle repeats itself over and over, you realize that the appearance of the male does play some role. According to these articles, attractive men usually earn a higher wage than unattractive men, so that actually enhances our argument. If, chances are, that a rich man is also good looking, and these two characteristics allow him to marry an attractive woman, of course their kids will be good looking.
I find this to be interesting but at the same time I am not surprised at all. Obviously when you are put into a situation it will be more enjoyable for the group members if everyone is attractive. But at the same time beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Attractiveness is something that everyone feels no matter what. I think it is awful that at a young age for boys that they are rejected if they are unattractive. My experiences with this was a little different but very similar. It seemed that the kids who did not have very much money were looked at as being ugly so they were rejected but it make sense since kids at young ages can be very cruel. I am curious to see a study about people who mature differently and are now looked at as being attractive and how it has changed their experiences.
The definition of beauty is varies. However, I always think background does matter. If someone has a horrible personality that you cannot stand on. You won’t be friend with him/her. I think beauty does worth some parts here but other factors such as personality, from a wealthy/poor family, family backgroud,etc might affect the result. As for me, I won’t judge people by how they look only; I will consider other factors as well.
What really surprised me here was the part about mothers and the attractiveness of their babies. It is hard to believe that the attractiveness of one's own child has a measurable impact on how attentive they are to that child.
I do not agree with the theory that moms of attractive first born infants are more affectionate and attentive than moms of unattractive first borns. I know from experience that this is not true. My mom is equally affectionate towards my two brothers and I, and we have a different wage of looks. How do you even measure beauty with infants?
Obviously, beauty is a powerful influencing factor in life. The test on babies prove it! But only to a certain point. I think one can be "pretty enough" and then personality, intellect, and how one carries themselves comes into play in determining success. Beyond that level, all things equal, beauty has no significant effect. I also think beauty applies more towards women than men.
This article takes into account two important factors that increase its validity; 1. There is a personal preference for beauty, 2. the perception of beauty can be conditioned starting at infancy. I found it interesting how a standardized beauty mask was created and infants reacted differently according to it. I would assume that beauty also as to do with our genetic predisposition to a certain type of face. I was also intrigued by the mothers reactions to attractive babies vs unattractive. Its rather sad that some children get less attention and therefore may be less successful just because they were ugly babies.
While i believe that what society considers "attractiveness" is a quality that most have to be born with, confidence in itself is attractive, a person who is confident is going to want to bring attention toward themselves and conform to the latest trends to be part of that attention. A person who lacks confidence might shy away from that sort of light and by doing so, be seen as "ugly" by the ones around them.
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