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.")