What is Beautiful is Good Stereotype and the Halo Effect

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With the vast amount of information available, the human mind has developed different strategies to operate more efficiently. Among the various shortcuts, or heuristics, used to make interpersonal judgments is the “what is beautiful is good stereotype” and the “halo effect.” These mental shortcuts occur automatically and provide important information, as Asch (1946) stated “we look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his character forms itself in us” (p. 258). The information gathered from initial contact becomes a working foundation for future characteristics and attitudes. The “what is beautiful is good stereotype” and the “halo effect” are intertwined with the implicit personality theory, which states that expectations of others is influenced by central traits (Baumeister & Bushman).

What is Beautiful is Good Defined

This effect relies on the assumption that physically attractive people are superior to others on many other traits, such as intelligence and overall personality (Eagly et al., 1991; Feingold, 1992; Jackson et al., 1995). This effect is extremely influential because people often rely on others for information.

Halo Effect Defined

The “halo effect” is the cognitive bias where one particular trait, especially good characteristics, influences or extends to other qualities of the person. The “halo effect” biases one’s decision with a tendency to focus on the good.

Dion, Berscheid & Walster (1972)-What is Beautiful is Good

In this study participants were asked to rate photographs of three individuals, ranging from low, medium, to high attractiveness. The physical attractiveness scale was determined by an earlier survey of a hundred students. The participants were to provide ratings for several different categories including personality traits, overall happiness, and career success. The ratings were then averaged. The results show that attractiveness is positively linked to more socially desirable personalities (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972). The findings in Dion, Berscheid & Walster study (1972), also confirmed that “attractive men and women were expected to attain more prestigious occupations” (p. 288). Interestingly, attractive individuals were not expected to be better parents. Although it is not statistically significant, attractive individuals were even given lower ratings as possible parents (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972). Overall, the experiment concludes that “not only are physically attractive persons assumed to possess more socially desirable personalities than those of lesser attractiveness, but it is presumed that their lives will be happier and more successful” (p. 289).

The results confirm people tend to associate beauty with other positive qualities. Both the “what is beautiful is good stereotype” and the “halo effect” has taken place. Beauty was the central trait, which influenced other characteristics.

Zanna & Pack (1975) Opinion Conformity Based on Attractiveness

In this study female participants anticipated meeting with either an attractive or unattractive man who either held traditional or untraditional views of women. The traditional view included beliefs that the ideal woman should be passive and an emotional homebody; while the untraditional view embraced the independence and ambitions of women. The goal of the experiment was to detect if there is any relationship between attractiveness and influencing opinion changes. The results of this study showed that women who are about to interact with a good-looking man, are more likely to shift their opinions to more closely match his. However there was no evidence of opinion shift in the group where women anticipated meeting with an unattractive man.

The “what is beautiful is good effect” influenced the women’s decisions to alter their opinions. The women did not alter their opinions in the group with undesirable men therefore the shift cannot be attributed to the goal of social acceptance; otherwise the women should have altered the opinions in both groups. The women who anticipated interaction with the attractive man credited the man as more knowledgeable and intelligent. The attribution of intellectual superiority of the desirable man derived from his physical appeal. Therefore the women more readily agreed with those they thought to be more intelligent. The other women in the undesirable male group, held strongly to their original beliefs because there was a lack of intelligence inferiority. The women viewed the men as equals and therefore did not feel intimidated.

Conclusion

The “what is beautiful is good stereotype” and the “halo effect” are common cognitive biases, in which people use to make judgments about others. These decisions are made easily and rapidly because “a person’s physical appearance…is the personal characteristic most obvious and accessible to others in social interaction” (p. 285, Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972). There may even be some truth in these judgments because the expectations may mold the individual, “one’s self concept develops from observing what others think about oneself” (p. 285, Dion, Berscheid & Walster). People live in a society with an innate desire to belong, which can promote conformity to societal beliefs and expectations.



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