Can kindness make us physically more attractive?
It is only human nature to respond positively to people we consider attractive and to want to be perceived as attractive by others. In this “youth and beauty” centered culture we live in, the pressure to be beautiful can be overwhelming. In fact it has spawned a burgeoning industry of self-beautification that includes everything from the latest fashions, to makeup, hair, face and body products, endless diet plans and an ever growing list of cosmetic procedures. There is no question that physical image is the criteria we use to rate others upon first meeting them. However, some interesting study results show that a person’s positive or negative personality traits can change that initial impression of perceived attractiveness, even when nothing has altered their physical appearance. In other words, it seems the adage ‘pretty is as pretty does,’ has some real-world validity.
In a study conducted in China published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2014, 120 male and female adult participants, who were randomly divided into three groups, each were asked to rate the attractiveness of the subjects in 60 photos of unfamiliar women with neutral facial expressions. Two weeks later, the participants in the first group were asked to rate the same pictures again, but this time personality descriptions such as kindness and honesty were added next to the photographs. The second group looked at the same photos but with negative personality descriptions, such as meanness or dishonesty. The third (control) group was shown the same photos without any personality descriptions.
While all three groups of participants showed similar attractiveness ratings in the first round of photo rankings, in the second round when the descriptions were added, the group shown the same photos with positive personality descriptors assigned the highest attractiveness ratings to these photos, while the group with negative personality descriptors ranked the photos less attractive than the positive group or the control group.
Researcher Yan Zhang noted that the results of this study seem to indicate that personality traits contribute to how we judge physical attractiveness, a phenomenon called the ‘halo effect.’ When positive or negative personality traits are added to the visual perceptions of a person’s attractiveness, characteristics like kindness and honesty can positively influence our overall impression of the person, or as Zhang said, “We find that what is good, is beautiful.” The reverse is true for negative characteristics.
Zhang’s study is just one of several similar inquiries into the link between personality and physical attractiveness. An earlier study conducted in 2010 examined the influence of personality information on the perceptions of the physical attractiveness of a range of female body sizes. A sample of 2,157 male university students were randomly assigned to one of 10 groups in which they received personality information about women they were rating, or a control group in which they received no personality information. Taking into consideration the participants’ age and body mass index, results showed no significant differences in the body size that participants found most attractive in the control group. However, participants provided with positive personality information perceived a wider range of body sizes as physically attractive compared with the control group. Similarly, participants provided with negative personality information perceived a narrower range of body sizes as attractive. These results suggest that non-physical attributes influence the perception of physical beauty.
While not conclusive, the results of these and other studies seem to hold some good news for those of us whose self-images fall short of what we would like. Even without a crash diet, complete makeover, or drastic surgical intervention, we can change the impressions we make on those around us simply by being kind. (By the same token a glamorous supermodel can blow a fabulous first impression with bad behavior.) It turns out when our mother’s told us ‘pretty is as pretty does,’ they knew what they were talking about.
There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look our best. Reflecting confidence is also a plus when it comes to making a positive first impression. But isn’t it nice to know that who we are on the inside and the way we treat people also has a profound effect on the way others see us?
Sources: Personality and Individual Differences; Huffington Post