Berscheid, E., & Walster, E., Physical Attractiveness. In L. Berkowitz
(ed., ) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Vol. 7, 1974. Exerpts
This paper explores how our physical appearance influences our relationships
The authors feel that research into physical attractiveness has been lacking
because sociilogists have disregarded is as an important variable or have
been uneasy in exploring the deterministic consequences of beauty. However,
the authors feel that attractiveness is an influential variable in understanding
Physical Attractiveness and Heterosexual Attraction
One hypothesis is that people will select for romantic liasons those who
are of their own social desirability level. A person's romantic aspirations
are influenced by their overall goal aspirations. However, it also depends
on the probability of relations -- a person of lower social desirability
may expect a rejection if they approach someone much higher than they are.
One study in the 60's paired up people at a dance. They found that the
only determinant that predicted the degree of "liking" of their
date and desire for subsequent dates was physical attractivness. Another
study found a 0.89 correlation, another a 0.69 correlation. Perception
of physical attractiveness was better correlated than "similar interests"
Another study by the author found support of the "matching principle".
Physically attractive dates were preferred by everyone, though people of
less attractiveness tended to choose less attractive dates than highly attractive
Another study confirmed that people make dating choices partly based on
the probability of rejection. Men asked to choose between women chose the
most physically attractive girl more often when assured they would not be
rejected. Men who rated themselves as highly attractive percieved their
chances greater than less attractive men.
The converse of the matching principle also seems true. Studies showed
that couples seem to have similar levels of physical attractiveness. People
of similar attractiveness levels showed more outward affection to each other
too. However, in this study is't difficult to determine if a similar result
would occur by chance, or if they was a "halo effect" from the
Still another study which eliminated interaction effects did see evidence
of this matching principle.
Sex Differences and Physical Attractiveness
It also seems that physical attractiveness is more important for men than
women. Women who were more physically attractive got more dates.
Why are Physically Attractive Preferred?
Interestingly, while physical attractiveness appears to be the biggest correlator
and predictor, it rarely appears as most important when directly asked of
subjects. Attributes like personality and character usually rank higher.
Either people are not aware of how important physical attractiveness is
in their selection criteria, or they are not fully honest.
Why is attractiveness so important. Some theories are:
Cultural norms and the media often demonstrate that we are supposed to exhibit
responses of sexual attraction only to physically attractive people.
Rating and Dating Complex
There is a great deal of prestige factor to be gained in dating a physically
attractive person. One study found that people had a better impression
of a man if he was shown to have a physically attractive girlfriend than
Physical Attractivness Stereotype
Folklore indicates that physical beauty is a sign of inner beauty. Studies
have confirmed that the two attributes are highly correlated (for both sexes).
People also felt physically attractive people would become more successful
and happier. Interestingly, they only future performance where physically
attractive people would not be expected to be better was as parents.
Other data suggest that the physically attractiveness stereotype is most
prevelant with high attractiveness levels.
Other Determinants of Interpersonal Attraction
Studies have shown that both attitude similarity and physical attractiveness
both have correlational effects with attraction. Males in particular place
more value on physical attractiveness than attitude similarity, especially
when the physical attraction is high.
Another studied found situational influences. Similarity had a greater
effect on marrying than working, liking than dating. Physical attractiveness
had a greater effect on dating than marrying, and dating than liking. However,
in real situations the attitudinal similarities are usually discovered over
time. Either way, their appears to be mutual influences between similarity
and physical attractiveness.
People like those who like them. One study found that people paired with
attractive future dates felt that they liked time more than those with unattractive
Impact of Physical Attractiveness on the Individual
Studies have found even kindergarteners can distinguish between body types
and have aversion to certain types (chubbiness). Direct evidence that physical
attractiveness impacts on social acceptance has even been shown in nursery
schools. Other evidence shows a correlation between quality of early social
behavior and adult social adjustment.
Studies show that the social value of attractivness for females increases
with age as children begin to absorb cultural stereotypes. For young pre-school
males agressiveness was associated with unattractivness. Attractiveness
and independence were also correlated. Thus, a persons early self-concept
may be partly determined by their physical attractiveness.
One study found that in attributing alleged bad behavior of a described
child, adults were more likely to attribute the behavior as an unique event
for attractive children, and evidence of a bad social trend for unattractive
children. Thus children may receive different socialization based on their
One study where 400 teachers analyzed the same school records of a child
(with different pictures of attractive/unattractive children) found that
teachers gave higher ratings of educational potential to attractive children
and unattactive children. Another study by college men of writings by a
college woman found the same effect of attractiveness on rating.
One interesting hypothesis is that people who request psychotherapy may
be less attractive than those who do not. Maybe plastic surgery could
help unattractive people in these situations?