September 19, 2007

Beer Goggling Isn't Natural and Being A Good Looking Girl Sucks From 9 To 5




Who's hot, and who's not?  Ok-- who's dumb and who isn't?  Were they different?

Now-- who knows way to evil power source? 

An internet meme spreading through the blogosphere: "Eyes Can't Resist Beautiful People."  I took the extra step of looking up the actual scientific article the news report cites, just in case there was more to it (and of course there was.)

A study discovers that when heterosexual undergraduates are shown pictures of random undergraduates, they have increased attention for pics of attractive opposite sex people.  So, guys look at hot girls, and vise versa.  Not exactly surprising.





 y-axis is time spent looking at the pic










But more interesting was the finding that, even when the subjects were "sexually primed" (told to write out a sexy story) the increased attention was only to the really attractive people.  There was no increased attention to average looking opposite sex pictures.  In fact, attention to the average looking people was no different than the attention to same sex pictures.  

Additionally, people in "stable" relationships (whatever that means-- these are undergraduates, remember) did not have this effect.  Perhaps they were "satisfied," but these tests are really about unconscious preferences.  The fact that there was no significant draw to the attractive people (over anyone else) speaks to, in my opinion, an innate monogamy in humans.

But don't think these pussy whipped losers (kidding!) don't have instincts-- they're just different than unattached people: committed people's attention lingered on attractive members of the same sex.




In other words, rivals.

So while there's a drive towards monogamy, there's also an assumption/fear that your mate might not be.







So this implies that the person's state-- "where your head is at"-- affects not sexual preference, per se, but the priority of your attention.  Single people are looking for sex; couples are looking out for rivals.  Consider that you only have a finite amount of attention.  In either case, your attention is focused on the most attractive, not distributed proportionally depending on how attractive the person is. 

But what are we thinking about the person we are looking at?  Once we've assessed their attractiveness (and, if a rival, attractiveness relative to our own), what do we think about their character? 

In another issue of the same journal, 20-somethings were asked to decide if the success of photographed individuals was due to luck (looks?) or ability.  As you might imagine, women attributed good looking women's success to luck, and less attractive women's success to ability; but thought good looking men succeeded because of ability, not luck.  Men did the exact same (respectively): good looking men succeeded through luck, good looking women through ability.  

This is called the sexual attribution bias, and it's negative, not positive-- i.e. it is specifically about devaluing the good looking rival, not about making correct judgments about the less attractive.   And it depends nearly entirely on what extent you think you are more or less attractive than the other person. 

So while we devalue a rival's abilities relative to their looks, we are unconsciously aware of their actual attractiveness (relative to our own.)  Consider that pejorative and devaluing terms for women-- airhead, bimbo, dumb blonde, bitch, slut, etc-- reflexively connote physical/sexual  attractiveness, at the expense of intelligence, etc.  "That girl is an airhead, I can't believe she can read, let alone work at Goldman Sachs.  But I'm not letting her out of my sight or near my boyfriend..." (Interestingly, pejorative terms for men have almost no attractiveness implication: jerk, arrogant, idiot, loser, etc.  Some terms, like meathead, frat boy, imply stupidity and  aggressiveness, but not attractiveness, per se.)

What it implies, of course, is that attractive (relative to others) women employees may have a more difficult time in the workplace if their coworkers, and especially bosses, are also women.


(Here's another internet meme I dealt with, about sleep deprivation and moral judgment. Also, note carefully the fourth comment, by "Anonymous.")


I'm having trouble seeing h... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2007 12:47 PM | Posted by dexev: | Reply

I'm having trouble seeing how 'bitch', 'slut' and 'airhead' connote attractiveness -- specifically in comparison to 'jerk', 'frat boy', and 'meathead'

Alone's response: Really? "That airhead can't drive." "That jerk can't drive." At minimum, do you reflexively assume bimbo=girl and jerk=boy?

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LP, I've liked your blog si... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2007 3:07 PM | Posted by anotherpanacea: | Reply

LP, I've liked your blog since I found it through a metafilter comment, but I have to say you're taking a lot of logical leaps in the name of common sense.

For instance: why is it that partnered individuals dwell on attractive same-sex pics? You say it's competition, but here's another model: a partnered participant self-censors out of habit with regard to opposite-sex oggling, but still enjoys same sex beauty without guilt. (I'm not saying that these are homoerotic fantasies, but simply the only visual pleasure available without guilt.)

The same goes for your sexual attribution bias: the fact is that being good looking -is- lucky, and it correlates highly with success. The judgment that a good looking person's success is partly do their looks, and thus luck, is actually accurate. The real question is why we don't attribute the success of attractive members of the opposite sex to their good looks, and there are multiple possible answers. For instance, it appears that we tend to associate looks with virtue when we're seeking a mate; that's why we overvalue looks to start, isn't it? I don't see the need to introduce aggression or competitiveness, though that's often tempting when addressing supposedly hard-wired evolutionary behaviors. Remember: there's a difference between genotypes and phenotypes. Ontogeny is not phylogeny.

Alone's response: The results of the studies stand on their own, I'm trying to interpret them in a wider context. Self-censoring makes some sense, but it doesn't explain why attention is focused to same sex attractive people. As for the looks-success interaction, the point these authors were making-- and makes sense to me-- is that the process is specifically about devaluing a person, not about overvaluing looks in general. In other words, consider the reverse: you tell me about a successful same-sex individual. Is that person more likely to be attractive or not?

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Self-censoring makes so... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2007 5:04 PM | Posted by anotherpanacea: | Reply

Self-censoring makes some sense, but it doesn't explain why attention is focused to same sex attractive people.

Because it's more fun to look at attractive people?

In other words, consider the reverse: you tell me about a successful same-sex individual. Is that person more likely to be attractive or not?

I'm not sure I understand your point. If I tell you about a successful person, they are more likely to be attractive, period, regardless of sexual differences. I think you're having some brand of correlation/causation trouble.

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any research done repeating... (Below threshold)

September 23, 2007 11:18 PM | Posted by andy: | Reply

any research done repeating this study with homosexual couples and singles?

Alone's reponse: actually, yes-- that very same article referenced above repeats the experiment using homosexual subjects, and the results are the same (i.e. the reverse but consistent with expectation.)

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This makes me remember the ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2007 5:19 PM | Posted by cerebralmum: | Reply

This makes me remember the time when my whole city had no gas for days and there were long queues at the petrol station of people waiting to fill their gas bottles so they could cook on their barbeques. A model friend of mine lined up and then realised her gas bottle was nearly at it's expiration date so she skipped the refill line and bought a new, already full, bottle. The comments as she walked back out to her car contained all the perjorative terms you listed above. She obviously did something smart, that anyone in the line could have done, but everyone belittled her and bemoaned her supposed privilege because of her looks.

Anecdotes aside, the study seems only to confirm commonly held assumptions. (Or maybe some people don't realise that beauty experiences prejudice too?) I would like, however, to see the study replicated with older participants - mating priorities change over time. (Or do they?)

I would also like to see some data on the "attractiveness" of those who were tested. What impact did the viewers' own looks have on their assessments? And how on earth did the study quantify the attractiveness of the images shown anyway? Is attractiveness really that homogeneous? Me, I see Brad Pitt and think Yuk.

Alone's response: redoing the tests with the viewer's attractiveness as a co-variable would, indeed, be an awesome study.

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If the attractive woman's b... (Below threshold)

July 22, 2010 12:22 PM | Posted by Elizabeth: | Reply

If the attractive woman's boss is female yet old enough to be her mother, there may not be a problem. They are not competing for men of the same generation so there shouldn't be any hostility present.

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