We hear this our whole lives; looks don’t matter, it is what is on the inside that counts! But how true is this notion? It seems people like to believe this is true, but will simultaneously turn someone down or immediately judge them for being unattractive. I agree that looks should not matter, and a person’s character should be measured by what they do, not what they look like. Unfortunately, this is not always what ensues even by people with good intentions. Generally, good-looking people date other good-looking people, and unattractive people date others in their own “league.” In the more rare instances where an attractive person is romantically linked with an unattractive person, people will poke fun and wonder how the unattractive individual managed to get with someone who is good-looking. So why do people continue to say, looks don’t matter?
Physical attractiveness comes with unquestionable benefits, and not just getting free drinks at bars. Obviously unequal treatment based on appearance is not fair, but it is the blunt truth. Attractive individuals are generally thought to be “better” people based on the idea that they are more sensitive, sexually responsive, interesting, and sociable. (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). They also are judged as being more competent and better with adjustment. All of these factors may increase the likelihood of success in many different areas of life. Physical attractiveness theory explains why this behavior occurs, and how there is a general expectation that attractive people will have better qualities than unattractive people (Schneider et al., 2012).
What are the effects of physical attractiveness theory? One example of how this can be problematic, is in employment. Studies have shown that attractive people are preferred in the workplace in comparison to unattractive counterparts. Two people (one attractive, and one unattractive) with the same exact qualifications applying for a job, should be equally considered. However, the interviewer without necessarily realizing it may prefer the more attractive individual solely based on the individual’s appearance. Unattractive people are not only less preferred than attractive people, but are statistically treated unfairly in general. There is evidence of unattractive people being rejected from job advancement, and are even considered to be more capable of engaging in criminal behavior (Schneider et al., 2012).
The biggest issue regarding the effects of physical attractiveness theory is the inaccuracy of judgement towards people. There is no evidence which suggests more attractive people are “better,” but that does not stop employers, and other individuals from perceiving that they are. This cognitive error likely has evolutionary roots, because generally there is a preference for attractive qualities when choosing a mate, reasons of fertility, etc.
So where does all of this come into play when choosing our intimate partners? There are a few explanations that have been developed by researchers regarding the influence of attractiveness in relationships. The matching phenomenon refers to the preference for individuals to choose long term partners that are of close or equal attractiveness (Schneider et al., 2012). Individuals with avoid aiming to high out of fear of rejection, and some may avoid aiming too low because they believe they can find a more suitable match. A study by Van Straaten, Engels, Finkenauer, and Holland (2009) researched the behavior of individuals in the presence of both attractive and unattractive confederates. Individuals confessed being more interested in dating confederates of similar attractivness, and not confederates of higher or lower attractiveness. The results of this study supported the matching phenomenon indicating that this is normally accurate.
So, we can assume with all of this information that looks do in fact matter. That being said, it is important to take your own physical appearance seriously, especially when interviewing for a job, going on a date, etc. While realizing that looks do matter, we should also keep in consideration that someone’s physical appearance is not a reliable indication for understanding the content of their character. One should always make an effort to understand an individual regardless of their appearance, before making potentially inaccurate judgments.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.
Van Straaten, I., Engles, R. C. M. E., Finkenauer, C., & Holland, R. W. (2009). Meeting your match: How attractiveness similarity affects approach behavior in mixed-sex dyads. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 685-697.